Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Water Crises of Vidharba

It was a vast stretch of dry deserted land. It had already been 4 hours since a young Krishna had left his house. The Sun was scorching hot, burning through is frail skin. The weather humid. He could feel pain throbbing down his throat every time he tried to swallow his saliva. He was not alone in his journey, there were others too. Women and Children with buckets in their hands, mapping the vast deserted land in search for water. It was one of the worst droughts they had ever faced.
Not far across in a nearby village, Kishorelal stood near the tip of a cliff, weeping for what could happen to his wife and kids after he was gone. It seemed to him as a last resort to get out of his troubled life. The debt he had accumulated was too huge for him to ever repay back. He had gone into huge losses. The money borrowed from money lenders could not be repaid. His farming had not provided yield. And how could it? There was not enough water available to him for irrigation. With no water, there would be no crops, and with no crops to sell, there would be no income for his family. Just debts being accumulated to repay. For Kishorelal, this was a lost battle. For him, just like many others before, there was no way out. Taking his last breath, he jumped. He was just one among the many hundreds of aid starved farmers that had committed suicide in that region.

Vidharba is a region in the eastern part of Maharashtra. A home to 11,800 villages is currently facing its worst drought in 40 years with around 29,500,000 families being directly affected. The situation being so bad that families travel long distances only to get access to a bucket of water which is supplied just once in 7-10 days in the nearest districts. That too, which the villagers allege of being polluted unsafe water. The is no water for basic sanitation needs as well. But for them, they have no choice. There have even been deaths due to dehydration. From the years between 2000-2010 there have been around thousand reported suicide cases in the affected regions. Some due to debt, some as a mark of protest fighting the system. A suicide every once in 3 hours at the peak of the crises. Reports of even drinking sewage water have been reported. Such is the plight of the people living I the worst affected areas.
For the state government, its just another issue to play politics on. While some politicians come out with absurd statements, some are using this opportunity to fill their pockets. It’s a common knowledge that false bills are being generated on the pretext of tanker water being provided. Crop failure is the major region amounting to the rise in debt suicides by farmers.
While the lack of rainfall does play a part in the current crises, it does not tell the whole story. This drought is not just a natural calamity but rather a man made one. Its not like there is no water at all in the region. A major contributing factor to this is the water diversions that take place. The water from the dams are being diverted to coal based Thermal power plants and other profit making industries. This being a direct outcome of the Maharashtra State Water Policy, which priotizes use of water for industrial purposes  above agricultural purposes between 2003-11. Coal based power generators are extremely water intensive. The Thermal power plants alone consume around 65% of the available water. To generate 1MW of electricity, 5-7 cubic meters of water is needed every hour. What’s worst is that 71 such thermal power plants are in various stages of approval with a plan to generate 55MW/year I.e. 2049 MCM water required would be needed. Making the situation even worst in years to come.

 While the rainfall may help the farmers cause to a certain extent, such droughts in the Vidharba region will continue to come and go if the current reliability on Thermal power plants as a source of electricity will increase. And if the remaining thermal power plants are given approval, on e can only imagine the amount of more farmers waking on the same path as Kishorelal or Krishna did. Last year following a sudden cloud burst, massive irregular rainfall in turn caused massive damage to crops. Many local and city based NGO’s continue to monitor the situation, conducting studies as well as pressurizing the government to make changes in the water allocation system. One can only hope that whatever the government does, meets the needs of the farmers. A coal based source of electricity is not the answer to India’s demanding need for power. It’s a source that takes more than what it gives.
What’s needed to be done is to halt all water diversions and allocations. Conduct a water Impact and availability assessment in river basins of Maharashtra so that drinking water and irrigation needs are considered. And most importantly, a call for promoting renewable energy technology. A clean and sustainable source of power.

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