When I got a call on a Sunday this October 2019 from a journalist of one of the world’s most reputed media inquiring about the Marathwada rainfall and drought this year, I wondered what is going on? South West Monsoon 2019 has seen the highest rainfall of last 25 years and most of the high rainfall happened in Central and South India. Should drought be a concern in this year too?
“I have harvested Moong (green gram) from my farm, now I’m harvesting Udad (black gram). Their price is crashing each day…I may not get even the Minimum Support Price (MSP)…But I’m not supposed to care about the price… its solely the farmer’s responsibility to reduce inflation and make India a superpower.”
…says Ashok Bhau, a dry land farmer dependent on rainfall and groundwater in the heart of Marathwada: Osmanabad.
Last year his Moong failed completely, there was no seed development and although his Tur (Pegion Pea/Arhar) fetched a very good price, it did not mean anything for the family as the productivity was dismally low following three droughts and dry wells[i]. Like many farmers in Marathwada, he burned his sugarcane on 4 acres after watering it for many months… finally there was no water to sustain it. We had written about soaring pulses last year.Continue reading “This is the time to protect Pulse Farmers in Marathwada”→
Above: The dried up Manjara Dam near Latur. Photo: Vivek Bendre, The Hindu
On the 16th of January 2016, when Latur City in the heart of Marathwada was receiving drinking water once in 15 days and when plans of bringing water from Ujani Dam, about 300 kms away were being mulled upon, I was standing on the wall of the Lower Terna Reservoir in Osmanabad, about 40 kms from Latur. The dam has been at dead storage for the past 3 years. There are a string of jackwells inside the dam, to take water to rural drinking water supply schemes in Osmanabad and Latur for Nilanga, Killari and recently Ausa in Latur and Makani and Omerga in Osmanabad. Water Filtration System which is supposed to supply drinking water to 14 villages in Osmanabad lies defunct for years, even as the Revenue Minister inaugurated a brand new system for Latur City. Villages supposed to receive water from the dead stock stay thirsty. This is also the same Lower Terna Dam from where water is being taken for the Latur city in tankers now.Continue reading “Latur Drinking Water Crisis highlights absence of Water Allocation Policy and Management”→
Above: Dry Pravara River Bed, with sugarcane on one side and frantic well drilling in the riverbed on the other (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)
Large parts of Maharashtra are facing possibly the worst droughts in the past 100 years, the third drought in the last 4 years. There are multiple components to this: poor rainfall in 2015 monsoon on the back of failed 2014 monsoon, relative dry winter, loss of four back to back crops, dangerously depleting groundwater levels and no restriction on water intensive crops, water use by urban areas and industry. Currently, the situation is unprecedented even for drinking water. Section 144 has been clamped in Latur, possibly first time in the history for safeguarding water sources, protect tanker water supply and avoid unrest.Continue reading “Sugar Industry Lifts (read steals) drinking water released for Maharashtra’s Drought-hit places”→
I was looking at a piece of blue sky, from the insides of a step-well. The well was stunning. Perfect. An example of appropriate technology which blended with its surroundings while enhancing it. “This is beautiful” I exclaimed as I climbed up, exhibiting all my city-bred exuberance. An old lady sunning herself next to the well looked at me with sad eyes. “Yes. But a well is not a well without water. This well has not seen water for the past two years.”
Above: A rainfed Tur (Arhar/Pigeon Pea) field in Amravati in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, October 2015
Pulse prices are raging in Indian markets, leading to outrage from urban customers. Newspapers are full of coverage, cartoons and puns on pulse prices. The fate of rural population facing successive droughts which has to buy pulses is better left to imagination. If some benefits of this price hike were to reach actual pulse farmers, it would have been some consolation. But for now, as Pulse farmer Ashok Pawar from Osmanabad tells me, the Tur (Arhar/Pigeon Pea) that is in the market is last year’s. It was sold to the middle men (Adatya in Marathi) and market committee at a low rate as the production was dismal due to late rains and drought followed by unseasonal rainfall. This happened in 2013 too. Tur from 2014 is now being sold at a record price, the farmer watches this helplessly. Continue reading “Pulse Farmers: Custodians of Fertility, Water and Climate-friendly Agriculture”→
Sugarcane Crushing is set to start at any moment now in Maharashtra[i]. About 164 Sugar factories[ii] have put up proposals for securing Crushing Licenses with the Sugar Commissionerate of Maharashtra. With crushing, will begin debates, protests and demands for well deserved Fair Remunerative Price (FRP) for farmers and soft loans, subsidies, debt waivers and monetary help for sugar factories from state and Center. Sugar factories will put up justifications on why they cannot afford FRP (yet again) this year, how financially sick they are and, at the same time, how they are the only option for drought affected Maharashtra.Continue reading “Water and Sugarcane Crushing in Maharashtra: In search of sustainability”→
30th September marks the end of June-September South West summer monsoon in India and Maharashtra. The 2015 summer monsoon has proved to be the worst monsoon in the last six years for India. Rainfall deficits are seen in all major food-producing regions like UP (47% deficit), Bihar (28% deficit), Punjab and Haryana (32% deficit). This is India’s second successive year of high rainfall deficit, and only the fourth time this has happened since 1901.
Monsoon retreats from the country and the states on various dates. Some welcome showers are falling and are further expected in Maharashtra in the coming weeks, but the summer monsoon figures are now set. According to meteorologist Akshay Deoras. “Rain counters are refreshed on 1st October and new count of post monsoon season or winter monsoon season will start now.”
First week of October calls for an analysis of the summer monsoon, its performance in June, July, August and September and the implications this holds for various sectors.
People of Maharashtra have heard about, seen and experienced the dismal monsoon of 2015. Marathwada fared the worst, and was number one deficit state in the country at 52% deficit for a long time. However, at the end of monsoon, deficit of Marathwada is 40%. This is more worrisome as it comes piggybacking the 42% rainfall deficit in Marathwada in 2014, with rainfall of just 398.8 mm.
But, in order to understand the situation better, if one tries to analyse rainfall figures from various reputed official sources, one is taken aback by the disparities. We looked at official Indian Meteorological Department[i] figures, official Maharashtra Agriculture Department[ii] (Rainfall Recording and Analysis) figures and numbers from the 49th Cabinet Committee Note of the Government of Maharashtra dated 30th September 2015 accessed by SANDRP[iii].
All are concerned with Monsoon rainfall from 1-6-2015 to 30-9-2015. All of these contain different figures!
Indian Meteorological Department: IMD generates its rainfall data for Maharashtra based on its approximately 878 rain gauging stations spread across the state[iv]. According to IMD, regions of Maharashtra fall in rainfall deficit this year of varying proportions. Konkan region shows deficit of 31% with 2914 mm rainfall, Madhya Maharashtra shows deficit of 33% with 488.1 mm rainfall, Vidarbha shows deficit of 11% with 848.2 mm rainfall, but the highest deficit is Marathwada at 40% with 412.4 mm rainfall.
According to IMD, between 1st June to 30th September, Maharashtra has received 732.5 mm rainfall of its 1007.3 mm average normal rainfall, which is 73% of average rainfall (27% deficit).
5 Districts that have received 50% or less of the average rainfall include
Kolhapur (803.4mm, -54%)
Solapur (231.8 mm, -51%)
Beed (287.4 mm, -50%)
Latur (372 mm, -51%) and
Parbhani (344.9 mm, -54%)
The region-wise, month-wise rainfall in Maharashtra this monsoon, as per IMD figures was as per following table.
Where is Madhya Maharashtra? Incidentally, IMD classifies the country in various categories. Maharashtra includes Konkan, Madhya Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha. Madhya Maharashtra includes Nashik and Pune Divisions of whopping 10 districts, from Nandurbar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nashik, Pune, Ahmednagar, Satara, Solapur, Sangli and Kolhapur. This region is not uniform in any sense, neither rainfall-wise, nor geographically nor is it “Madhya (Central) Maharashtra”. Any assessment based on a Madhya Maharashtra is meaningless in a sense as it clubs Kolhapur, at the southern tip of Maharashtra whose normal rainfall is more than 1500 mm with Dhule at the northern end of the state whose normal rainfall is about 500 mm and includes areas of Tapi, Narmada, Krishna and Godavari basins. It is time IMD adds some rationale to its meteorological divisions in India.
Maharashtra Agriculture Department: Agriculture Department of GoM runs a very useful website: maharain.gov.in which displays detailed data from its Rainfall Recording and Analysis Department. It states: “The department of Agriculture, Maharashtra State initiated the project for recording daily rainfall in the state in year 1998. Initially rainfall data was recorded at tehsil level and subsequently same functionality was extended to circle level from 2013 as GoM has installed rain gauge at every circle. Circle officer sends daily rain data using mobile through SMS. In addition to SMS rain data can be entered directly on the web portal.”
Prima facie it appears that Agriculture Department may have a better spread in the over 40,000 villages in Maharashtra than IMD’s 878 rain gauging stations.According to Agriculture Department, of the 353 administrative blocks in the state (taluks):
65 bocks have received rainfall less than 50% rainfall (18.4% blocks). Most of these are concentrated in Solapur and Marathwada region.
174 blocks have received rainfall between 50-75% rainfall.
Just 23 blocks have received 100% or above of normal, and these are concentrated in Vidarbha and Nandurbar, Northern Maharashtra.
Cabinet Note of Government of Maharashtra, 49th Meeting, 30th Sept 2015: It reports that state has received 678.5 mm rain of the avergae 1131 mm, that is 59.9% or 60% of the average. But as we saw above, IMD says its 732.5mm of average 1007.3 mm, 73% of the average. There is no explanation for such widely different figures in the cabinet note.
Agricultural experts like Nishinkant Bhalerao states that the 60% magic figure will make any drought aid difficult and that it masks the monthly disparities which very badly affected this season’s Kharif. For example, Marathwada received barely 14% of its July average rainfall, a mere 28 mm, but cumulatively mainly due to late Spetmeber rains, this anamoly is hidden.
According to the note:
13 districts of Dhule, Nandurbar, Pune, Aurangabad, Buldana, Akola, Washim, Amravati, Wardha, Nagpur, Bhandara, Gondia, Gadchiroli received between 76-100% average rainfall,
17 districts of Thane, Palghar, Raigad Ratnagiri, Sindhudurga, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Satara, Sangli, Jalna, Beed, Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Hingoli, Yavatmal, Chandrapur eceived between 51-75% average rainfall and
In 4 districts, rainfall has been less than 50%, these include Nashik, Solapur, Kolhapur and Parbhani.
Strangely, IMD states Nashik received 729 mm rainfall till 30th Sept and has just 20% rainfall deficit but for the same period, Agriculture Department shows Nashik has received just 484.8 mm rainfall, and shows a rainfall deficit of about 52%! The difference between the two values is whopping 244.2 mm, more than entire seasonal rainfall of Solapur!!
IMD note also includes Beed (just about here at -50%) and Latur (-51%) in less than 50% rain, these are not included in the cabinet note.
Agriculture Department statistics includes Osmanabad in less 50% rainfall bracket, but it is not included in Cabinet Note
Cabinet note talks about 355 blocks, while Agri Dept considers 353 blocks and Government of India[v] considers 351 blocks in Maharashtra!
Cabinet Note, 30th September 2015
Agricultural Department Government of Maharashtra, 1st October 2015
Blocks with less than 25% rainfall
Blocks with 26-50% rainfall
Blocks with 51-75% rainfall
100% or more
While discrepancies in these sources is not the subject matter of this discussion, there is definitely a need to streamline and improve monsoon rainfall reporting. This is especially important at a time when policies, drought assistance, insurance payment to farmers and water allocation decisions are heavily dependent on rainfall figures. If we cannot get our rainfall figures right, it raises a lot of questions about our capacity to monitor and understand the most important weather event of the year, on which lives of over 50% of the population directly depend! There is a vast difference not only in observed rainfall, but also supposed normal rainfall figures, which skew up the percentages.
Below: Notable differences between IMD and State Govt Data
State Agriculture (mm)
Difference in Actual Rainfall (mm)
% of Normal
% of Normal
Solapur gets less than 1972 rainfall: According to Agriculture Dept, Solapur has received low rainfall of barely 193.9 mm from June-Sept. This is on top of 25% rainfall deficit in 2014 monsoon. In the epic drought of 1972 also, Solapur received more than this at 224.9 mm rainfall.[vi] This year, Solapur has received less than half of the rainfall Rajasthan received! This also seems to be the lowest monsoon rainfall Solapur received since 1901!
For two consecutive years, Parbhani has received less than 50% rainfall (326.9 mm this year). In fact it’s June –July August Rainfall this year is lowest in the century.
The district which has shown the highest deficit isKolhapur. As per Agriculture Department data, it has received just 634.8 mm rainfall, 35.8% of its normal average monsoon rainfall. Strangely, IMD shows 803.4 mm rainfall this monsoon for Kolhapur, which is 46% of normal. The difference of 168.6 mm is too huge to be ignored and needs to be explained.
Reservoirs storages at Maharashtra state level are at 56% of live storage capacity right now. But this is again masking the regional disparities. Marathwada has just 15% storage and 9 months ahead before the next monsoon. Four of its reservoirs are at 0 Live Storage (Mazalgaon, Manjara, Nimn Terna, Nimn Dudhna). The biggest Dam Jayakwadi is at a mere 7% storage.
Nashik division upstream of Marathwada also has relatively low storage at 59%.
Pune is slightly better at 61%.
Nagpur, Amravati and Konkan divisions are above 70%.
Some Contingency Planning steps:
Even in this situation, westward diversion of water from drought-hit Bhima-Krishna basin to high rainfall Konkan region and down to sea by Koyna and Tata dams continues, with no attempt to stop this completely wasteful diversion in this dry season.
No information is available in public domain about district-wise planning of available water resources till the commencement of next monsoon
No strong decision has been taken by the government about restricting or regulating sugarcane crushing which will commence from 15th October and which will consume lakhs of liters of water in the most severely drought-affected parts of the state.
No strong decision on limiting new area under sugarcane in Solapur and Marathwada regions, which will be planted after this harvesting and crushing season.
While IMD states that Maharashtra has received more than 70% average rainfall and State Government pegs it at around 60%, the reality is that water situation in Maharashtra especially Western Maharashtra, Nashik region and Marathwada is dismal. Erratic rainfall with long dry spell in July and August has affected Kharip crops, groundwater levels and surface water storages. There is a need to immediately work on a participatory contingency planning of the available water resources for the coming year.
This planning cannot happen in a closed door manner by the cabinet or group of ministers, but should include and respond to water users and farmers and should be built on the principles of equity and sustainability. MWRRA also needs to get into its act. The people of the state are waiting for such an initiatives from the government and MWRRA.
– Parineeta Dandekar, with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar
Above: Ashok Pawar’s motorbike cruises right inside his dry field, even after recent showers in Marathwada Photo: Ashok Pawar
After a heartbreaking gap, retreating monsoon is now blessing Marathwada with some showers. Small water harvesting structures and those built under the Jal Yukta Shivar Abhiyan, a flagship project of CM Devendra Fadnavis, are clocking an increase in water levels. 96.3% of average September rains in just the first 10 days of September (Dept of Agriculture, Govt of Maharashtra) is indeed a respite for a region that stands at the doorstep of an epic drought. What is lost in June-July-August in terms of crops failures, water scarcity, dismal dam storages etc., cannot be compensated by September rains, which are a fraction of total monsoon (June-July-Aug-Sept) rainfall. But if the rains continue, they can help drinking water situation and possibly Rabi crops. It is heartening to see the farmers celebrating this downpour.Continue reading “Sugarcane in Marathwada: A Syrupy debate amidst Lowest June-Aug Rainfall in the Century”→
Writing about drought in Marathwada can give a feeling of deja vu. But, what makes drought this year different is that we are writing about drought not in December or March or April, but in August, bang in the monsoon. Last monsoon wasn’t very generous to Marathwada, but the picture was much better than what it is today with dam storages at dismal 8% this year as against 26% this time last year. Marathwada had 344.5 mm rainfall as on Sept 3, 2014 (deficit of 37%) compared to 250.9 mm on Aug 28, 2015, with much higher deficit of 50%. (Our detailed analysis of Marathwada drought: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/drought-and-marathwada-an-oft-repeated-tragedy/)
On the 28th of August 2015, reservoir storages in Marathwada stand at 8%, with the largest Jayakwadi Dam at 5%, 4 dams at 0% (Mazalgaon, Majara, Lower Terna and Seena Kolegaon) and 3 more at less than 5% storages (Purna Siddheshwar at 1%, Yeldari at 3% and Manar at 3%). Of the average June-August rainfall of 525.2 mm, Marathwada has received only 250.9 mm, 50% of the average so far. Kharif crop is lost for most and Rabi is under cloud.
By now, the issue is not only about irrigation, but drinking water for humans and cattle. How can this situation improve? Where can the region get water from? It seems even retreating monsoon will help only to an extent now. Dams in Nashik and Nagar districts which are upstream of Marathwada, themselves have low storages, with Nashik region at 45% as against 69% storage last year. Still, Bhandardara Hydroelectric project in Ahmednagar District, which is about 74% full with about 224 MCM of water and can afford releasing some to the downstream Jayakwadi and areas beyond. (It is not clear if the Ghatghar pump storage project, upstream from Bhandardara HEP, is actually operating in pump storage mode or generation mode and releasing water to the west, in which case it needs to be stopped). It will be better to take the decision about such releases soon, without waiting for a major conflict to arise. MWRRA needs to proactively perform its main duty of equitable water distribution, without waiting for October end, till which time any releases will become hugely contentious.
Similarly, dam storages in Pune Division are generally low at 52% as against 89% last year. However, there are a few dams which are literally sitting idle with a lot of water.
One such Dam is Bhama Askhed, which has a whopping 86% storage now at 187 MCM.
In April 2013, based on an order from Hon. High Court of Mumbai, 84.9 MCM (3 TMC) water from this very same Bhama Askhed Dam for the parched Ujani in the downstream. Back then, MWRRA was dysfunctional. The Authority could not take any decision on water releases from upstream dams even on court orders as it was simply non-functional then, with almost all of its posts vacant! (Read our detailed piece on Bhama Askhed: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/dams-as-pawns-bhama-askhed-pune/)
Why water release from Bhama Askhed makes sense now
Bhama Askhed Dam on Bhama River, tributary of Bhima River, epitomizes nearly all the problems of Maharashtra Water Resources Department. It has seen huge costs escalations, delays in its construction, it has not rehabilitated the 7000+ people that it has displaced. Most of the oustees are today without a reliable source of drinking water, irrigation or land based rehabilitation.
But the most damming fact is that it has absolutely no canal network.
The dam with live storage capacity of 217 MCM (7.5 TMC) was to have two canals: a right bank canal (RBC) of 105 kilometers and a left bank canal (LBC) of 14 kilometers. Construction on the dam started in 1995. When I visited the site in May 2013 to observe the impacts of High Court order, I saw that canal-work has not been undertaken even according to the claims of the WRD in the White Paper.
Right Bank Canal is barely 18 kilometers complete that too, in disjoint patches, making any use impossible. Left Bank Canal work is not even initiated. The 18 kms of Right Bank Canal is a dead investment as the canal is not even connected to the dam: that part is still not constructed.
In short, Bhama Asked dam does not irrigate a single hectare of its envisioned command till date. It has not used an inch of canals.
Bhama Askhed received administrative sanction in 1992 and was to irrigate 37 villages in Khed, 18 villages in Haveli and 9 villages in Daund talukas of Pune district with a total command area of 29,465 hectares, as per the White Paper on Irrigation Projects brought out by the WRD. All of its original command remain unirrigated, 20 years after undertaking the project.
I talked with the Deputy Engineer of Bhama Askhed on Aug 28, 2015 and he told me that the situation I saw in 2013 still prevails. No irrigation in command, no new work on canals initiated, no progress in canal work. The reason being that according to a Government Resolution (GR) of 2011, about 1.3 TMC water from Bhama Askhed has been allocated to Pune Municipal Corporations. Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation also wants roughly same quantity of water share from the dam. There are many issues with the GR and this allocation. But leaving that discussion aside for now, the fact remains that none of these Municipal Corporations are taking water from this dam at this moment and will not do so this year. Pune’s ambitious scheme of getting water from Bhama Askehd, funded by the erstwhile Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) remains unrealized and incomplete.
Deputy Engineer of Bhama Askhed Division told me that it will take at least 2-3 years more before these schemes materialize. He says “What’s the point of making canals if the water is anyway to be allocated to cities? As it is the first priority is for Drinking Water.” There is a huge irony in equating the unsatiated water demand of these metros with protective, livelihood irrigation needs of the downstream region. Pune or Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Coporations waste and pollute water with impunity and have not taken any credible steps for using available water effectively. But this is not the time to raise all this with the officer.
When I ask him why water is not being released from this idle dam to the downstream which is suffering right now? “In any case, City allocations will not happen this year as you say”. He brushed this off saying that it needs to be a policy decision.
While touring Marathwada, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has publicly accepted that water needs to be released from the upstream dams for the region now. But theer are very few dams in the upstream which can do this. At the same time, a simple mention of sending water trains from Pandharpur (in Solapur district, on the boundaries of, but not in Marathwada) to the parched Latur District has sparked a political conflict in Solapur with one group saying they will not allow a drop of water to go from Solapur. It is understandable to an extent as the largest dam in Bhima Basin, the Ujani Dam in Solapur, is below dead storage already and the prospect of a whole year with severely rationed water availability is prompting aggressive reactions.
At such a critical time, any release from Bhama Askhed, if carefully monitored, can reach Ujani directly and help to a considerable extent. There needs to be very strict monitoring of this release, ensuring that it is not siphoned off enroute or once it reaches Ujani. Any groundwater recharge that may happen along the way need not be grudged. It will help someone, rather than that water sitting idle in Bhama Askhed reservoir, open to evaporation losses.
From Ujani Dam, water can reach fringes of Marathwada through Seena-Madha Link Tunnel, which reaches Paranda Taluk of Osmanabad. Water from Ujani will also reach parched cities of Osmanabad and Latur for drinking water through pipeline supply. If only the half-completed Shirala Lift Irrigation scheme was completed by now, this water could have helped a different part of Osmanabad. But Shirala is a part of the Dam Scam. If at all trains need to be deployed for sending water to Latur, or water needs to be reserved in Ujani for drinking water needs of Solapur like 2013, additional water in Ujani from Bhama Askhed will be invaluable.
But for this to be effective, we need the will and discipline from both the politicians and the communities along the river. We simply cannot afford this water being siphoned off for water hungry sugarcane cultivation, as is happening with Pune division dams, in collusion with some officials.
So the water sitting idle in the Bhama Askhed, if released, right now can ameliorate the problems of a deeply troubled region. If water is not released now, but is released closer to cane crushing season in Oct-Nov-December, we will know that the real beneficiaries are not thirsty people, but sugar factories.
We request the Government of Maharashtra and the Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority to order releases from Bhama Askhed urgently along with stoppage of westward diversion of Krishna basin water by Tata and Koyna dams and to devise a plan to monitor and utilize these releases most effectively for this drought hit region.