When a 6.2 magnitude earthquake levelled Latur and surrounding areas on September 30, 1993 initial approaches toward rehabilitation included renowned specialists from a variety of fields, including water management, for the even then drought-prone area.

Unfortunately, the rehabilitation work ended up prioritising reconstruction mostly in terms of building homes for those who had lost them. The need to address the endemic water problem was washed away.

The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) states that many factors have in the years since, contributed toward this crisis.

According to SANDRP, “Tata Hydropower Dams… have been diverting water of the Bhima Basin to water-surplus Konkan for the past century for power generation. Such water transfer from a water-deficit basin like Bhima-Krishna to water surplus basin like Konkan, in such a terrible drought,” highlights the need for the more apposite sharing of the waters from the dams.

“Marathwada holds 70 per cent of Maharashtra&’s brewing capacity for beer. The beer industries in Aurangabad use minimum of 35 million litres of water every day (MLD). This needs to stop immediately. By the admission of beer manufacturers themselves, they can use treated water for their product and should do so immediately. Sugar Factories, Sugar cultivation, Distilleries and Wineries upstream of Jayakwadi in Nashik Division need to be temporarily restrained from using water at least until Rabi plantation is over in Marathwada and there is some satisfactory rainfall. There needs to be prescribed a water quota above which water will not be released to them, this will also encourage more efficient processes in these water intensive industries.”

The SANDRP further adds, “Demand from sugarcane has already severely jeopardized the available groundwater and surface water resources which need to be safeguarded for drinking water supply and livelihood supporting crops needing least water.”

In all 136 watersheds in Latur had been either overused or turned critical by 2015, as per SANDRP. “All over Marathwada thousands of borewells are being sunk every month. The estimate is about 10,000 borewells per month in the region. The MWRRA [Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority] should immediately take up its duty as the Groundwater Regulator as per the Groundwater Act of 2009.”

The reason an ever-increasing number of borewells are being sunk is because once the groundwater is used up at one site people move elsewhere, digging ever deeper until they hit another groundwater source. “In as many as 247 villages, groundwater draft exceeded recharge to such an extent that the aquifer has gone completely dry,” according to SANDRP. 

Needless to say the water train will bring interim relief to the people of Latur, but long-term solutions are still awaited by those most affected by the drought.