Man-made Drought in Maharashtra

By Dr. Parvez Mandviwala for,

Drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply- whether surface or underground water. A drought can have serious implications on the agricultural, social, economical and health balance of the concerned area.

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In Maharashtra, today, 15 districts are affected by drought. Solapur, Ahmadnagar, Satara, Beed, Nashik, Latur, Nanded, Aurangabad, Jalna and Osmanabad are among the worst affected. The number of villages so affected is an alarming 12000!

Let us first understand the consequences and causes of drought and then move on to the specific problems faced in Maharashtra and their plausible solutions.

The consequences of drought can be enumerated as under:

1. Famine, hunger, starvation.

2. Health issues like malnutrition, dehydration and various other diseases.

3. Livestock affected. Livestock requires both- water and fodder, the availability of which is badly affected during droughts.

4. Habitat damaged- both terrestrial and aquatic.

5. Dust bouts.

6. Wildfires.

7. Agricultural output affected.

8. Industries affected, in turn affecting the overall economy.

9. Reduced water quality, because lower water flows reduce dilution of pollutants and increase contamination of remaining water.

10.Mass migration of people from affected areas.

11.Snake migration and consequent increase in snake bites.

12.Decrease in production of electricity.

13.War over water resources. Playing dirty politics over water is also seen these days.

14.Farmer suicides as is prevalent in Vidarbha.

Causes of drought in general:

1. Low rainfall and increased evaporation because of certain wind patterns causing dry winds and high pressure ridges.

2. Oceanic and atmospheric water cycles like El Nino Southern Oscillation.

3. Human activity like:

a. Over farming

b. Excessive irrigation (deep bore wells)

c. Deforestation and rampant urbanization

d. Erosion of land

Causes specific to Maharashtra in the present crisis:

If we were to state the principal culprit behind the present drought in Maharashtra, the one word answer would be ‘Capitalism’. Capitalist forces are hand in glove with the political and administrative system to satisfy their greed for money.

Maharashtra is known for its sugarcane cultivation. The drought prone districts account for 80% of sugarcane cultivated in the state or 25% of India’s produce. To rephrase the sentence, it is the massive sugarcane cultivation itself that makes these areas drought prone! Sugarcane requires 4300 MCM of water for the entire season which is 20 times more than that required by other traditional crops. In 2013-14, farmers grew sugarcane in two lakh hectares of land- around 9.4% of the state’s cultivated area- yet consumed 71.4% of its irrigation water. This sugar is processed in factories and distilleries. The average water consumption of a sugar factory is a jaw-dropping 14 lakh litres per day!

In 2012, the Economic survey had stated that the area under irrigation in Maharashtra increased by a measly 0.1% (from 17.8% in 2000-01 to a ridiculous 17.9% in 2009-10) after a decade-long expenditure of a mammoth Rs 7,00,00,00,00,000 (These 7 and nine zeros translate into Seventy Thousand Crore). It should be noted here that the state’s irrigation coverage is much less than the national average of 45%. Irrigated area under the jurisdiction of the water resources department decreased from 32.52 lakh hectares in 2011-12 to 24.48 lakh hectares in 2012-13. The Comptroller and Auditor General have repeatedly pointed to maladministration in the state’s irrigation projects.

Dams meant for irrigation are being used to supply water to industries, sugar factories and newly built residential areas replete with golf courses. The recent protests over the IPL matches planned in Maharashtra despite the severe drought here is a case in point.

There is an utter lack of proper policy on water distribution and consumption, and unaccountable water management by the State and Central Governments and the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Board. For instance, Government policy mandates that no more than 5% of irrigated land should be used to grow sugarcane. However, in Pune district alone, about 40% of total irrigated area in under sugarcane cultivation!

Building unviable large dams, neglecting traditional water systems combined with rampant and injudicious digging of bore wells have all added to the water woes. This is the reason why the state remained parched in 2011 despite receiving above average rainfall (102.3%) that year which had filled all the dams. In the past few years however, rainfall itself has also been inadequate, worsening the already miserable condition.

Most of the factories and breweries are owned by political bigwigs. Thus, there is a pronounced conflict of interest, explaining the unabated cultivation of sugarcane and the mushrooming of sugar factories, the criminal lack of proper water management and halfhearted resolve to tackle the root cause of the problem.


1. Restricting sugarcane cultivation and utilizing the same land to grow crops which consume less water. This will not only help lighten the drought but also alleviate the food crisis in the state and nation and bring food prices down.

2. Crop rotation (growing different crops in the same area in sequential seasons) can help minimize erosion and allow farmers to plant less water dependent crops in drier years. Crop rotation also ensures replenishment of nitrogen by alternatively growing cereals and other crops. Moreover, it mitigates the buildup of pathogens and pests. This practice eventually improves soil structure and fertility by altering deep rooted and shallow rooted plants.

3. Transvasement: Building canals or redirecting rivers as massive attempts at irrigation in drought-prone areas.

4. Drought monitoring to pinpoint local causes.

5. Saving available water by harvesting rainwater, avoid wasting water and recycling sewage water.

6. Desalination

7. Using sea water wherever applicable. Eg. For flushing of toilets

8. Cloud seeding to induce rainfall

9. Pulling the plug on corruption and unethical capitalism. Exploitation of natural resources to fill the coffers of a few wealthy politicians and industrialists has lead to untold misery in the state and elsewhere.

(Author is a practicing dental surgeon from Thane, Maharashtra who writes on social issues)