January 31, 2016

Drought in Marathwada: Causes, Consequences and Remedies

Tapati Mukhopadhyay

MARATHWADA region has been reeling under drought condition since 2013. It is in a part of the scanty rainfall area of Central Maharashtra. The region coincides with the Aurangabad Division of Maharashtra. It includes districts of Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Osmanabad, Nanded, Latur, Parbhani and Hingoli.  Out of these eight districts, five are the worst affected, namely Beed, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded and Osmanabad. Marathwada region has a population of about 1.87 crore and geographical area of 64.5 thousand sq.km. The region had faced several droughts in the past. Droughts have occurred in the years 1899, 1918, 1972 and 2012 onwards. The 1972 drought is in the recent past; which people still remember. In 1972, food and fodder were the main concerns, but now drinking water is more important. It is multi-dimensional drought. Global climatic situation is also playing in the process, which was not so acute 50 years before.



Generally, drought is a period of below average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortage in its water supply, in all levels namely atmospheric, surface or groundwater. A drought condition in any region including Marathwada region occurs when there is less than 50 per cent of average rainfall for consecutive periods. The region is under the influence of southwest monsoon. When southwest monsoon reaches in western coast in the month of June, massive rainfall occurs in the western coast of Maharashtra (2,500 mm to 3,000 mm). Rainfall decreases from west to east. When it reaches Marathwada region, the average rainfall becomes 750 mm.

Further analysis has been carried out based on 50 years’ data from 1941 to 1990, obtained from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) for both rainfall and temperature. Rainfall data for four months (June to September) and temperature data for four months (March to June) have been used for the calculation of average rainfall and temperature. The data  reveals that Parbhani, Nanded and Hingoli are having average rainfall of above 200 mm, while Latur receives 180 mm, followed by Osmanabad (160 mm), Aurangabad (160 mm), Jalna (150 mm) and Beed (150 mm). Thus, the worst affected districts of Marathwada are Beed, Aurangabad and Jalna.

The data also reveals that Nanded district of Marathwada has the highest mean temperature at 39.3 degrees Celsius, followed by Parbhani (39 degrees Celsius). However, mean maximum temperature of Beed (38.1) and Aurangabad (37.6) is slightly lower than the above two districts. There, Osmanabad district shows the lowest mean maximum temperature i.e. 36.6 degrees Celsius. However, temperature data have not been available from IMD for other three districts of Marathwada, namely Hingoli, Latur and Jalna. All the districts of Marathwada are affected from drought, as the average rainfall in 2014 and 2015 is 44 per cent below normal rainfall. The problem intensified after serious crop damage due to hailstorm in Marathwada and Vidarbha in 2013.




Marathwada is a landlocked region. The entire region is drained by the Godavari river and its tributaries such as Purna, Shivna, Dudhna, Vedganga, Sindhphana, Bindusara are the main rivers in the region. Except Godavari, no other is a perennial river. These rivers carry very little water as the summer approaches. Major dams in Godavari basin are Bhandardara in Ahmednagar, Jayakwadi Stage 1 in Aurangabad, Upper Dudhna in Jalna, and Lower Dudhna in Parbhani, Sindhphana and Bendsura in Beed, Majira in Latur, and Ujjani in Aurangabad, etc. All the reservoirs receive water during rainy season. Due to the failure of monsoon, many reservoirs are dry. No water can be supplied until next monsoon.

Along with surface water, underground water resource has also been affected. The water crisis in Marathwada has pushed thousands towards the underground borewell industry. It is draining the underground water and posing ecological challenge. There is severe depletion in groundwater level in all the talukas. Highest depletion has taken place in Hingoli (-4.35m), followed by Osmanabad (-4.13m), Parbhani (-2.87m), Latur (-2.52m), Nanded (-1.60m), Aurangabad (-0.94m) and Beed (- 0.34m).  It is reported that at least 10,000 new bores came into existence. This extraction of underground water ultimately would lead to ecological disaster.

Primarily, farmers were using shallow groundwater.  They were dependent on wells. With the acute shortage of rainwater in 2012-13, most of the wells went dry. Many check dams became dysfunctional. Live storage of reservoirs of Manjara, Manzalgoan, Terena, Purana were at zero level in August 2015.



Farmers’ suicide: Because of this severe drought situation continuing for last four years, Marathwada became the graveyard of farmers. Total number of suicides in January 2016 crossed 1,000, every week 25 to 30 farmers are committing suicide. This should be treated as the national epidemic.  

Agriculture is worst affected: Jowar and Bajra, along with other kharif crops, were completely wiped out in 2013 when monsoon failed. Along with the food crops, fruits (horticulture) also are affected. Jalna, which is known for being the biggest producer of sweet lime, has been the worst hit in the drought. Sweet limes grow in about 55,000 ha in Jalna.  In 2015, there was no cultivation of sweet lime at all. Sweet lime plants require five years to bear fruits. Thus, the hard work of farmers for years together was in vain.

Two important cash crops in Marathwada namely cotton and sugarcane are also severely affected. Cotton is not water intensive crop as it can be cultivated in the dry area. In fact, 90 dry days are required before germination of cotton flowers. However, misfortune of the farmer began with the introduction of B.T. cotton. The capital input for cultivation increased for the farmers but the crop failed successively. Loan burden remained on the shoulder of the farmers. Sugarcane is a water intensive crop, planted in water deficient area. Marathwada has 70 sugar mills. Total water required for Marathwada for sugarcane cultivation is 4,300 million cubic metres. This requirement is double the storage capacity of the largest dam of Godavari. Just crushing of cane will require 17 million cubic metres water, which is enough to provide drinking water to 15.85 lakh people until next monsoon.

Intensification of water politics of Maharashtra: The problems faced by drought situation in Marathwada are due to not only natural factors but also lack of appropriate political intervention. Powerful political parties played all tricks to grab local water resource. In many cases, dam water through channels has been diverted to the particular field belonging to a powerful minister. It is the false pretension of political leaders that there is no drinking water for the resident population.

Consequence of drought on cattle: Apart from the people, it is the cattle who are affected by the problem. Average cattle need more than 100 rupees per day fetching them approximately 15 kg of grass and fodder. However, at present it is only 60 rupees’ fodder per cattle the government has sanctioned and out of that, 50 per cent is thrashed to the godowns of the higher authorities.

Suggestions and Recommendations

There is no proper water management policy in Maharashtra. To combat with the situation many measures need to be undertaken.

Stopping westward water diversion from Bhima basin to Konkan: The region suffers from complete lack of water management policy. It is a very big irony that water is transferred from water deficit area of Bhima Basin to surplus area of Konkan region. The hydropower stations of Khopoli, Bhivpuri, Bhira has more than 136.64 MCM of water till July 2015. Other dams associated with above project namely Mulshi, Andre, Walve, Shiravda, Thokanwada and Vadivde are storing 620 MCM of water. The water stored in Tata dam rightfully belongs to Bhima basin. If it is released, it can directly come to Ujjani reservoir and can supply water to Beed, Osmanabad in Marathwada region through pipeline, which is already in place for drinking water. Further, from Bhima-Sina link tunnel water can flow from Sina river basin, and can be used for drinking purpose in Solapur and Marathwada region.  This redistribution of water is within the power of the state government. The Maharashtra government should implement it without further delay.  

Regulations needed for sugarcane production and introduction of low capital investment crops: It is well known that the sugarcane cultivation and crushing in Marathwada region is a large stake of certain politicians. Strict restrictions to be imposed for any sort of water lifting and stealing for sugarcane field and factory. No new sugarcane factories to be permitted. Sugarcane requires 4,300 MCM of water for the entire season, which leads to problem of water shortage for other uses. Demand for water for sugarcane should be curbed to preserve it for drinking purpose. As a long-term proposal less water consuming crops like oil seed, pulses to be considered for introduction.

Marathwada as such has a vast land as open space. This land can be widely used as grassland, so that the industries such as dairy products, fodder and compost factories can develop extensively with very low investments. This may help to improve marginal profits of the farmers. The political capture of water in dry region like Marathwada region is not only shocking, but also a criminal activity. Maharashtra politicians are raising voice for bailing out the sugarcane industries. In this circumstance, the government should give some relief keeping in focus the long-term issues related to water management.

Social awareness needs to be created: In Marathwada, as there is limited facility for credit delivery system and official lending pattern, the poor farmers have no other alternative but to depend on the Mahajans (private moneylenders). This system needs to be socially tackled by the political parties, women’s organisations, youth forum and students. They have to come together to build social resistance against such type of loan. In addition, medical aid to be given to the farmers, while they are in depression.

Watershed development and enhancement of underground water resources: That drought situation of Marathwada region is not only because of the erratic distribution of monsoon rain but also associated with lack of water governance, poor implementation of watershed development projects, non-judicious use of irrigational water. The stake of the politicians makes the situation worse.

Finally, to tackle this situation, several political measures should be undertaken. Scientific dry farming with introduction of less water intensive crops like oilseeds and pulses to be taken as one of the main task. Marathwada region has tremendous potential for horticulture development such as sweet lime, pomegranate, etc. Sugarcane crushing is to be stopped and finally to be shifted from this area to the nearby area. Industries like beer, distilled water need to be shifted in peripheral area. Steps should be taken to introduce integrated marketing system to avoid exploitation by intermediary. With judicious water management, the area can be turned into a successful grassland farming area.  (END)