Dams · Maharashtra

Dams and Equitable Water Distribution: Learnings from Maharashtra

Above: Placard proclaiming Ahmednagar’s claim over Mula Dam waters, protesting any downstream release Photo: Zee24 Taas

While largely unheard of in the country, bitter intrastate water conflicts are now routine to Maharashtra since the past few years. Come November or December, just as the state wearily puts behind one more sad monsoon, newspapers start carrying pictures of desperate farmers standing inside canals challenging dam authorities to release water. Politicians are quick to use this opportunity to deepen schisms between the state. Continue reading “Dams and Equitable Water Distribution: Learnings from Maharashtra”

Maharashtra · Marathwada

Water and Sugarcane Crushing in Maharashtra: In search of sustainability

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”

Maharashtra · Marathwada

Sugarcane in Marathwada: A Syrupy debate amidst Lowest June-Aug Rainfall in the Century

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”


Krishna Marathwada Project: A costly pipe dream?

Above: A board at the dam site proclaims: “Beware, dam work ahead”. The warning pretty much sums up the situation of Krishna Marathwada Project Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

It was a blazing hot afternoon, made hotter by the subconscious association of Marathwada with all things dry, parched and drought-stricken. I was standing on the half completed dam wall of the Khuntephal Storage Tank in Beed, along with Macchindra Thorave and his colleagues. I’ve seen many dams and many dam walls, but it was impossible to believe this was a dam wall, supposed to impound 5.68 TMC of water (TMC=Thousand Million Cubic Feet. 1 TMC=28.317 billion liters). Primarily because there was no water in sight on either sides of the dam! There was no river in sight either! It actually looked like an under-construction road connecting two hills.

But as I realized later, being a part of the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Scheme and Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project, issues like water were inconsequential.  This was Dam for Dam’s sake.

Half completed wall of the Khuntephal/Ashti Storage Tank, part of the Krishna Marathwada Project. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Half completed wall of the Khuntephal/Ashti Storage Tank, part of the Krishna Marathwada Project. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Continue reading “Krishna Marathwada Project: A costly pipe dream?”


Thirsty sugarcane in dry Marathwada means a loss of 2 million farmer livelihoods

Above: Gangakhed sugar factory from Parbhani Marathwada which has crushed 7 Lakh Tonnes of cane till 21 Feb 2015. Parbhani has received a mere 346 mm rainfall this year, nearly equal to what it received during epic drought of 1972


Although Marathwada region in Maharashtra is no stranger to droughts, it’s facing a singularly acute crisis this year. Kharif crops had failed in all of the 8139 Kharif villages in the region with yields less than 50% of government standards (paisewari). Rabi is under cloud too with all 396 villages assessed for production showing less than 50% yield. And yet, area under and production of water guzzler crop like Sugarcane is going up. In 2013-14, Marathwada grew over 2 lakh hectares of sugarcane and is now crushing the cane in its 61 sugar factories using thousands of lakhs of litres water every day.

Does this make any social, economic or environmental sense? No

But do we have options? It seems so. Let us see how.  Continue reading “Thirsty sugarcane in dry Marathwada means a loss of 2 million farmer livelihoods”

Maharashtra · Marathwada

Can Marathwada afford to undertake Sugarcane Crushing in this terrible drought?

Since 2012, farmers in Maharashtra, especially in Marathwada and Vidarbha region of central and eastern Maharashtra are faced with unending mountains of crisis. What started as drought of 2012 went on in form of violent rains at places in 2013, hailstorms of February-March 2014, scanty monsoon in 2014 and unseasonal rains at places in November 2014, affecting lakhs of farmers. Agricultural production has suffered losses as impact of scanty rainfall has been compounded by absence of rains in critical time windows when soybean was filling and cotton bolls were forming. More than 8000 villages in Marathwada region which comprises of Aurangabad, Nanded, Parbhani, Latur, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna and Osmanabad have recorded crop losses of more than 50%.

Marathwada region in Maharashtra Map from: Marathi Wikipedia
Marathwada region in Maharashtra Map from: Marathi Wikipedia

The entire Winter Assembly of the newly formed Government seems to be clouded by discussions of drought package and increasing farmer suicides in Marathwada and Vidarbha. Since January 2014, more than 400 farmers have committed suicide in Marathwada region, and the pace is picking up worryingly since the past month. Hydrological, meteorological and agricultural droughts are becoming more pronounced in Marathwada.

But can this be attributed to vagaries of nature alone?

A brief analysis of the underlying reasons for the crisis in Marathwada and its future implications:

Truant Monsoon of 2014

As per SANDRP’s analysis of district-wise rainfall figures of Marathwada in monsoon 2014, the picture which arises is dismal:


For 2014, departure from normal rainfall for 6 out of 8 districts in Marathwada was more than 40% and rest two districts it was more than 50%, indicating a huge reduction in rainfall. However, contrary to what is being stated in the media, the region received satisfactory rainfall in 2013 monsoon. In fact, 6 districts of the 8 received more than 100% of normal rains and remaining two districts received 88% and 95% of normal rains last year. This is one of the reasons that the reservoir storage in 2014 did not fall as sharply as they did in 2012-13 drought. On 15th October 2014, Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad had 42% Live storage, which was more than October 2013 storage of 33% and 2012, when it had reached dead storage already (http://www.mahawrd.org/). The entire Marathwada region too showed large reservoir storage of 47%, which is not extremely alarming.

Significantly, 2012-13 drought also unfolded in a similar manner, with highly satisfactory monsoons of 2011.

At the same time, the region is facing one of the worst droughts in recent history today.

This seemingly contradictory situation underlines a number of things, most important being: large dams do not automatically equate with water in farmers’ fields. Work on many projects (most projects in Marathwada) is incomplete ( for example: canals of projects like Lower Dudhana, Jayakwadi Phase II, etc), while contractors and politicians have made a pretty packet from the contracts, many projects are ‘evaporation machines’ than a water supply systems, without canals and distributaries or systems to govern water management. The available impounded water is a valuable political tool, and is used as such. Water allocation and management is far from being sustainable, transparent and accountable.

Projects under the jurisdiction of Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation
Projects under the jurisdiction of Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation

According to news reports, in the past 11 months, 454 farmers only in Marathwada[1] have committed suicide due to number of reasons, most linked to crop failure and debt. Strikingly, after late November 2014, 52 farmers committed suicides mainly from Beed, Nanded and Osmanabad regions.

District Number of farmer suicides since January 2014
 1. Beed 122
 2. Nanded 104
 3. Osmanabad 54
 4. Parbhani 49
 5. Aurangabad 40
 6. Jalna 22
 7. Hingoli 29
 8. Latur 34

The issue has been raised in the Winter Assembly by the enthusiastic opposition and the CM is yet to announce a drought relief package. It is expected to be close to 8000-9000 Crores or more.

At the same time, there is a huge tussle going on between Nashik and Nagar on one hand and Marathwada on the other, for waters Godavari which originates in Western Ghats flows through Northern Maharahstra and then becomes the lifeline of Marathwada region. Nashik and Ahmednagar have constructed slew of large dams on Godavari and have always been reluctant to release water for Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad in the downstream. We saw this episode flaring up last year and we are seeing an action replay this year as the HC has ordered immediate release of water from upstream dams for Jayakwadi. (See:http://indiatogether.org/share-environment). (Notably, this is the first time I have witnessed that the Dam Storages data of www.mahawrd.org, the official website of the Water Resources Department is not updated with weekly Dam Storage Levels. This had not happened even at the peak of 2013-12 Drought. Our queries to WRD on this front have been unanswered till date.)

WRD officials and administration have taken cautious stand and water in reservoirs is now reserved mainly for drinking water purposes, any release in downstream for irrigation is being delayed and is being made only after strong negotiations, badly hitting rabi cultivation, which is already less than last year.

Even as conflicts flare up, protests rage and assembly is disrupted, sugarcane crushing goes on unhindered in Marathwada, in whopping 61 Sugar factories!

On the unfortunate and expected lines, the government has not said a word about restricting cane crushing in Marathwada this year, which itself guzzles massive amounts of water, apart from cane cultivation. On the other hand, the party president, Amit Shah himself attended first crushing day of some factories (one of which was reportedly captured by relatives of a BJP MLA by fraud![2])

A look at sugarcane cultivation and crushing season so far in Marathwada:

(All data obtained by SANDRP from Sugar Commissionarate, Maharashtra Government, December 2014)

Area under sugarcane in Marathwada in 2013-14 and Sugar factories

District Area under sugarcane (in hectares) Number of Sugar factories
1. Aurangabad 15,373 9
2. Jalna 11,083 5
3. Beed 27,299 10
4. Parbhani 25,567 6
5. Hingoli 18,037 3
6. Nanded 28,057 9
7. Osmanbad 43,635 16
8. Latur 61,479 12
TOTAL 2,30,530 Hectares 61 Factories

So around 61 sugar factories will crush 154.28 Lakh Tonnes Cane in a period when drought is so bad that water will not be released from reservoirs for irrigation!

In doing so, the factories will use a minimum of 1500 litres of water to crush one tonne of cane. To crush 154.28 lakh tonnes, minimum amount of water used will be: 23,142,000,000 Litres or 23.1 Million Cubic Meters. This is the lowest estimate.

This amount would be sufficient to irrigate nearly 8,000 acres of high yielding groundnut, more of Jowar or can be sufficient for drinking water needs of nearly 15 lakh 85 thousand people[3] till the onset of 2015 monsoon!

This water will be used till the end of crushing season when the drought will be extremely severe if we look at current indices.

Is there a justification of doing so? Will a 10,000 Crore drought package come close to ameliorating the impact of water loss at the peak of drought?

In addition, the pollution control mechanism of most sugar factories is pathetic. Pollution Control Board has raised this number of times. Uncontrolled water and soil pollution by sugar factories will additionally pollute groundwater and water bodies, further affecting water security of the region.

This water may be sourced from dams and groundwater. SANDRP has witnessed in 2012-13drought, sugar factories in Marathwada, mainly Osmanabad region lifted water from dams even when water levels had dipped below dead storage. What will be the impact of this siphoning on local drinking water security?

We should not forget that one of the costliest political lesson for NCP came when Ajit Pawar uttered extremely insulting remarks on dry reservoirs, mocking people’s plight. This was in context of a protest by a lone farmer from Mohol, urging water for drinking, even as sugar factories on Mohol used lakhs of litres of water when the farmer, Prabhakar Deshmukh, was fasting in Mumbai! Needless to say, the ruling party’s defeat was sealed through such acts. (More about Sugarcane in Solapur here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/why-solapur-sugarcane-and-sustainability-do-not-rhyme/)

Even in terms of groundwater, Marathwada region has literally touched rock bottom. In a report by GSDA (Groundwater Survey and Development Agency) submitted to Government of Maharashtra,[4] it has been reported that in 249 villages of Marathwada, abstraction has been 100% and there is no more water to draw. Not surprisingly, the regions suffering largest groundwater problems are surrounded by sugarcane and sugarcane factories.

In the past too, SANDRP has underlined how sugarcane in drought affected areas contributed to worsening drought of 2012-13. Then Solapur was in crisis.  This year, the district which has 28 sugar factories two years back has 34 sugar factories!

All government announcements about bringing sugarcane under drip have remained on paper and sugarcane continues to rule the drought politics of the region, regardless of the political party. In fact, the Cooperation Minister BJP Government Chadrakant Patil has announced that the only clause which has been limiting further sugar factory rush (of having a minimum aerial distance of 15-25 kms between two factories[5]),  can be diluted “ to promote healthy competition”. 200 factories are lined up for licenses with the Sugar Commissionarate!  There is no thought about the impact of this decision on water profile of Maharashtra.

This defies logic. The work of Winter Assembly was disrupted several times yesterday (10th December 2014) by aggressive opposition asking for an immediate drought package for Marathwada and Vidarbha. How can a 4,000 or 10,000 Crore Drought Package address these systemic issues? How can this package address siphoning off water from a drought hit region in peak drought? The opponents are happy discussing help to sugar factories for drought relief, not raising any points about impending impacts of crushing cane in drought.

In the long term, there is a need to reduce area under sugarcane and provide proper incentives, fair support price, forward and backward market linkages and support for initiatives like horticulture under drip (and there are several success stories from Marathwada on this), dairying, oil seed and pulses cultivation and processing, dryland farming and importantly, equitable and transparent water management involving all farmers in the region, not restricted to a few.

It is high time that long term decisions are taken in order to make Marathwada truly drought proof and free from clutches of ‘drought packages’ and opportunistic politics, year after year. A start can be made by restricting cane crushing in the region immediately.

-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

End Notes:

Marathwada Farmers need Water:

SANDRP Analysis on water issues in Maharashtra:

Open Letter to Devendra Fadnavis: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/open-letter-to-devendra-fadnavis/

Why Solapur, Sugar and Sustainability do not rhyme: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/why-solapur-sugarcane-and-sustainability-do-not-rhyme

[1] http://www.esakal.com/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsId=5611377824684291267

[2] http://www.loksatta.com/mumbai-news/bjp-leaders-closed-try-to-take-over-controle-on-sugar-factory-in-paithan-1049861/

[3] @ 80 litres per capita per day

[4] http://www.loksatta.com/maharashtra-news/no-rain-in-marathwada-1047256/

[5] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/maharashtra-likely-to-abolish-25-km-limit-between-two-sugar-units-114112300348_1.html

Further work on SANDRP on Drought, Maharashtra and Sugarcane can be found in Category: Maharashtra

Free flowing rivers · Ganga · Ministry of Environment and Forests · Ministry of Water Resources · Uttarakhand

Will this Ganga manthan help the River?

Uma Bharti at GM

The one day Ganga Manthan[1] organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister[2] Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister[3] Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.

I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.

At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were  also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.

While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.

Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.

Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology[4], but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.

Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release[5] announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”

The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.

Nitin Gadkari at GM

At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell[6] when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu[7] has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?

Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA[8] (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.

So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!

The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.

Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.

I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.

GM stage

Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.

Recommendations for the government on Ganga

1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?

2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!

3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.

4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.

5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.

6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities.  As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated  sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.

7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!

8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.

9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.

10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.

11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.

12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.

13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.

14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.

In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.

Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited[9] suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)


[1] For details, see: http://www.gangamanthan.in/

[2] Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation

[3] Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation

[4] It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!

[5] Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”

[6] PIB PR on July 7, 2014; http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/ganga-clean-up-may-cost-rs-80-000-crore-114070700889_1.html

[7] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/plan-for-navigation-in-ganga-basin-questioned/article6187510.ece

[8] http://moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/ngrba/index.html

[9] NMCG would welcome any further suggestions, ideas, write-up etc from all interested person through email: info@gangamanthan.in

[10] Also the views of NGBRA expert member B D Tripathi that also questions Dr Vinod Tare and IIT consortium report on Ganga: http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/72

http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/71: Ganga clean up more about governance than technology: Himanshu Thakkar

http://www.thenewsminute.com/technologies/70: Experts flay Uma Bharti’s Ganga Manthan clean up plan


El Nino and Maharashtra: Lets dig the Well before we are thirsty

2012-13 was described by the Maharashtra government as the worst drought in the state since 1972. Weather scientists are predicting that conditions are fast developing that seems like a repeat of 2012. The Reserve Bank of India has already warned the states about the possibility of El Nino and be ready for the worse. Maharashtra could take several steps to be ready for this developing situation, including using its available water storage in reservoirs around the state prudently.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we need to be alert to weather predictions and reservoir storages. Especially for Maharashtra. At this time last year, following poor 2012 monsoon, many of the bigger reservoirs were at 0% live storage for months (Ujani, Jayakwadi, several projects in Marathwada, etc). A satisfactory monsoon 2013 and some small contribution from the ill-fated hailstorms has resulted in better status of Maharashtra reservoirs storages at this point in time.

However, Maharashtra (like the country) needs to be extra cautious with using the available resources. Several institutes and bodies like Skymet, Buraeu of Meteorology, Australia, National Weather Service USA, etc. are predicting a strong possibility of El Nino effect this year, which generally results in poor monsoons.  Sky met is specifically saying that this year may be a repeat of 2012 poor monsoons. The report also states that Vidarbha, Marathwada and Central Maharashtra, could face monsoon deficit.[1] Bureau of Meteorology, Australia has issued notice stating a 70% or more chance of El Nino this year. They state “Although the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently neutral, surface and sub-surface ocean temperatures have warmed considerably in recent weeks, consistent with a state of rapid transition. International climate models surveyed by the Bureau indicate continued warming of the central Pacific Ocean in coming months. Most models predict sea surface temperatures will reach El Niño thresholds during the coming season.”[2] A similar prediction has been made by US agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Centre.[3] While some weather scientists are saying that we should not panic and wait for IMD’s (India Meteorological Department) official forecast on April 25 and the next one in June, however, it would certainly be useful to be careful from now onwards.[4]

According to the latest Central Water Commission (CWC) Reservoir bulletin of 090414 regarding water levels in 85 selected major reservoirs in India, the 12 major reservoirs of Maharashtra have a combined storage of 4.471 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) which is still good 38.73% of live storage capacity of 11.544 BCM.  This is down from 6.522 BCM (over 50%) on Feb 6, 2014. It is not clear where this huge 2 BCM water has been used up in these two months.

However, Maharashtra is indeed lucky to have this 4.471 BCM water in 12 major reservoirs[5] at this time. We need to use this prudently in view of the forecast that situation similar to what prevailed in 2012 when Maharashtra experienced bad drought could get repeated in coming monsoon. Government needs to take advance steps to ensure that storage capacity is not frittered away and there is less land under water intensive sugarcane and such other crops. Media, civil society and independent observers need to be vigilant in this regard to ensure that mistakes of 2012 are not repeated and available resources are used wisely.

In terms of wise water management and effective use of available reservoir storage, waiting for June IMD forecast will be much too late. It will be wiser if water management is cautious starting from now. At this time, already some regions are facing water scarcity.

Maharashtra farmers are already in dire states due to 2012 drought followed by hailstorms and the disastrous impacts of extreme weather events in 2014. Another drought possibility is bad news, but impacts can be reduced with wise planning and prudent advance steps. Maharashtra Water Resources Department Website[6] provides further details about storage position. Let us look at basin-wise water storage position.

Godavari Basin

Marathwada: In Marathwada, the overall live storage is 31% on 17th April 2014, including Major, Medium and Minor storages. However, this gives a misleading picture as many dams with better storages (like Vishnupuri) are placed at the end of the basin.

Dams like Manjra, Lower Terna and Seena Kolegao are already at 0 live storage, while Jayakwadi is at 15% (It was at 0%, along with six other dams of Marathwada even before this time last year).

In the upstream of Godavari Basin, Kadwa sub basin is showing severe water scarcity already. The region consists of premier onion and grape growing belt of Maharashtra, as well as wine processing centre. The chronically drought affected town of Manmad lies here and last year, it received water after 51 days in March from the upstream Palkhed Dam.[7] Surprisingly, Palkhed is currently at 5% Live Storage, when this time last year it was at 19% live storage. Water releases from Palkhed were extremely contentious last year. This year with even lesser storage, things may flare up again and wise water management, curb on non-essential uses (in dry period) like wine industry, preventing siphoning water from canals for cash crops, etc., needs to be observed to avoid stress in coming two months or more. Kadwa Dam shows a dipping live storage at 2%, while Nilwande Dam in downstream Ahmednagar shows just 3% against 7% last year.

Vidarbha shows a better picture at 58% live storage, Lowest being Bagh Kalisarar inn Bhandar at zero live storage. Now this project, though in heavy rainfall region of Bhandara has been at 0 live storage since January for the past 6 years! Either the information about the project is incorrect, or the dam has serious issues which need urgent attention.

Krishna-Bhima Basin

Ujani which was at 110% LS earlier this year after many years because of the monsoon in 2013 is now showing LS of 22% on April 17.[8] Two irrigation rotations have been released from the dam. It was reported that last rotation was used up largely by sugarcane,[9] leaving little for other crops. Ujani was at sub-zero storage (-39%) at this time last year. According to that standard, it has a good storage now, which should be used very cautiously. Solapur has added several new sugar factories this year, in addition to the 28 factories and the area under sugarcane has increased tremendously because of good rainfall.[10] Keeping the possibility of a weak monsoon in 2014, water to sugarcane must be controlled and curtailed, else we will see a repeat of 2013, only on a larger scale.

1920 MW Koyana Hydropower Project: Surprisingly in Koyana, the reservoir level this year is worse off than last year at the same time, which is not the case for any other Maharashtra reservoir in CWC bulletin. While this year it is at 30%, last year it was at 47% as on April 9.

Falling Groundwater tables: Recent GSDA report[11] has warned that groundwater levels in more than 2700 villages in Maharashtra has fallen below 1 meter than the average levels in the past 5 years. This is definitely alarming as groundwater is the water lifeline of rural Maharashtra. Out of the 2700 villages, levels in nearly 1200 villages have fallen below two or even three meters (for 497 villages).

Sugarcane: Area under sugarcane has increased in Maharashtra following good rains in 2013. This cane will demand more water in its lifecycle in farm and also for crushing. Agricultural Minister of India too did not find it appropriate to curb the wide spread plantation of sugarcane in drought prone areas even when national and global sugar prices were falling.It is estimated that current year may see more than 10,00,000 hectares of sugarcane which will demand water.The government has not even taken its own promise of enforcing drip to sugarcane.

There seem to be turbulent times ahead and it will be advisable if water management in Maharashtra tightens up to respond to upcoming challenges. The fact that there is useful water storage in some reservoirs and that warning is available in advance could be blessings if necessary steps are taken.

Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

Himanshu Thakkar, ht.sandrp@gmail.com





[1] http://www.skymet.net/

[2] http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/

[3] http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/sdo_discussion.html

[4] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/el-nino-may-disrupt-monsoons

[5] These 12 reservoir include: Jayakwadi, Ujani, Koyna, Khadakwasla, Isapur, Mula, Yeldari, Girna, Upper Vaitarna, Upper Tapi, Pench and Upper Wardha.

[6] http://mahawrd.org/default.htm

[7] http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/a-drop-in-the-bucket/article4560869.ece

[8] http://www.agrowon.com/Agrowon/20140415/5237052667319190169.htm

[9] http://www.agrowon.com/Agrowon/20140415/5237052667319190169.htm

[10] https://sandrp.in/Sugarcane_and_Drought_in_Solapur_june2013.pdf

[11] http://www.esakal.com/esakal/20140416/4977647275092496415.htm


Why Solapur, Sugarcane and Sustainability do not rhyme?

As I build this dam

I bury my life.

The dawn breaks

There is no flour in the grinding stone.

I collect yesterday’s husk for today’s meal


The dam is ready

It feeds their sugarcane fields

Making their crop lush and juicy

But I walk miles through forests

In search of a drop of drinking water

I water the vegetation with drops of my sweat

As dry leaves drop and fill my parched yard

Daya Pawar[1] (Original marathi song Bai me dharan bandhte, majha maran kandte)[2]

The 2012-13 sugarcane crushing season (which goes on for 160 days [3] from roughly 15th October) has recently concluded. It may be instructive to look at the figures of the sugarcane crushed by sugar factories in Solapur, one of the worst drought-hit districts in the state. Presently, Solapur has more than 200 cattle camps, one of the highest in the state, and more than 141 villages which are entirely dependent on tankers for drinking water.

Solapur and Sugarcane: Solapur has the highest number of sugar factories in Maharashtra. During 2012-13 (latest crushing figures as on 11th April 2013), 126.25 Lakh tonnes cane was crushed in Solapur district alone in its 28 sugar factories[4]. The district accounts for the maximum 18.25% of the cane crushed in the state during 2012-13.  In 2012-13, a year that was called as a ‘drought year, worse than 1972 drought’, Solapur added 4 new sugar factories to its empire.

River basins of Solapur Normal monsoon (June-Oct) rainfall in Solapur district is 560 mm, in 2012 monsoon the rainfall was 412 mm[5]. Solapur belongs to five different sub basins as described by the Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission (MWIC) Report (June 1999). Among these five sub basins, the MWIC report describes 4 sub basins Bhima downstream Ujani (18B), Seena (19A) and Bori Benetura (19B) as highly deficient considering the water availability from all natural sources. Please see Annex1 Table 1 for details. 86.6% of Solapur district, barring parts of Karmala and Malshiras talukas, fall in this highly deficient river basins. The Commission says: “It is desirable to impose a total ban on water intensive crops like sugarcane in these deficit sub basins”. In these sub basins, “less water intensive crops only” and “less water intensive economic activities only” should be permitted, says the commission (p 138, Vol. III). Please see Annex 1 Table 2 for sub basin wise area of Solapur District.


It means that sugarcane crop and sugar factories in all talukas of Solapur district, possibly except those in Karmala and Malshiras are unviable, in violation of the MWIC report and against prudent water management. There is some addition to the water available in these basins (18B, 19A and 19B) following implementation of Ujani dam and inter-basin transfers. However, that still does not justify any crops like sugarcane or setting up of sugar factories. MWIC clears states that additional water should be spread across the talukas to benefit maximum farmers. Sugarcane cultivation clearly will not help that cause.

Rise of sugarcane cultivation in Solapur “Sugarcane is a crop which exhausts the soil and, therefore, it is not grown in the same field from year to year but is rotated in alternate years with food-crops.” 

-District Gazetteer of Sholapur, 1977[6]

How rapidly the area under sugarcane in Solapur district has gone up can be seen from the graph (figures from official sources like http://mahaagri.gov.in and Sugar Commissionarate in Pune, 1961-62 and 1971-72 figures is from the Solapur district gazetteer and for 1992-93 from MWIC report). It is clear from the graph that the sugarcane area approximately doubled in Solapur during seventies and again during the eighties. Between 2005-06 and 2011-12, it seems to have gone up by over 160%, this is the highest growth phase for sugarcane cultivation in Solapur. That growth phase is likely to continue if we go by the number of new sugar factories that are planned to be set up in Solapur.



The area under sugarcane in Solapur at its high in recent years was 1.79 lakh ha in 2011-12, which is 19.46 % of net sown area of 9.2 lakh ha in the district (see table 3 in Annex). Of the net irrigated area of 2.52 ha in Solapur, sugarcane takes away 71.03%, way above the prudent 5% prescribed in Maharashtra. It is clear that sugarcane has been taking away disproportionate share of water of the district, at the cost of the rest of the farmers.

Water Consumption of Sugarcane and Sugar factories Considering productivity of 81 tonnes of sugarcane per hectare[7], the cane crushed during 2012-13 occupied 155 864 hectares in Solapur. Considering that ratoon type of sugarcane requires 168.75 lakh litres water per hectare at farm[8], which is the lowest water requirement among all types, (40% of sugarcane in Maharashtra is under ratoon type cultivation), amount of water required for cultivating sugarcane on 155 864 hectares of area in Solapur works out to be 2630 Million Cubic Meters. This is 1.73 times the live storage capacity of Ujani Dam (Live Storage: 1517 MCM), the largest reservoir in Bhima basin and third largest reservoir of Maharashtra. Assuming a rather high irrigation efficiency of 60% (considering that most of the water comes from surface water sources) water required from source would be 4383 MCM[9]

For crushing 126.25 lakh tonnes of cane, the sugar factories used a minimum of 18.93 Million Cubic Meters of water between October 2012 and March 2013, when drought was already severe. The live water storage of Ujani reservoir, at its highest was in October 2012 at 14% and it rapidly receded to zero in January and sub-zero levels from January to March[10] (as on 21st April, 2013, it is -32.91%).This is a very conservative estimate as per guidelines of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), considering 1500 litres water required to crush and process one tonne of cane[11].


According to MWIC report, even with maximum possible augmentation (from all planned schemes, many of which are not even implemented or sanctioned), Solapur district’s total share of water is 4188 MCM. But the current level of sugarcane cultivation in Solapur already seems to be using more water than the ultimate planned water allocation for Solapur.

New Sugar factories planned in Solapur! To add to this, at least 19 new sugar factories (see details in Table 4) are planned in Solapur[12]. Many of these are private sugar factories and are owned by politicians. Sakhar Diary 2013 gives the locations and capacities of these factories. Some of these factories have also received distance certificates[13] from the Sugar Commissioner’s office, Maharashtra indicating that they are at an advanced clearance stage at the state level. Together, these new factories will add crushing capacity of 85.52 Lakh tonnes of sugarcane. Madha, part of the constituency of Union Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, is in the forefront of getting new sugar factories. It has 3 existing factories and has 5 new ones planned, 2 by politicians.

To grow this 85.52 L T sugarcane, an additional 105 580 hectares will have to be brought under sugarcane cultivation. Additional 1782 MCM of water will be required at farm to cultivate this sugarcane. Assuming even a high irrigation efficiency of 60%, this would mean requirement of 2970 MCM water at source. In addition, the Sugar factories will require 12.83 MCM of water for crushing this cane.

The new planned sugar factories will bring total area under sugarcane in Solapur to 2.685 lakh ha and the annual water consumption by sugarcane and sugar mills over 7400 MCM. This is way above the full planned allocation of water for Solapur as per the MWIC report. MWIC assessment is exhaustive including all possible planned water schemes, so there is no possibility for Solapur to get water over and above the ultimate planned schemes in Solapur. This means that by going for these new sugar factories, Solapur would possibly taking water of other regions or accelerating towards rapid exhaustion of its available groundwater.


Even as farmers from Mohol region sat on dharna in Mumbai, urging Maharashtra government to release water for Ujani dam, the same Mohol block in Solapur district has 3 existing sugar factories. These factories crushed 13.56 lakh tonnes of sugarcane this year till March 2013[14], using 20,340 Lakh Litres of water from 15 October 2012, when the drought was already severe till March 13, when farmers from Mohol were protesting in Mumbai for drinking water. So even when farmers were protesting for drinking water, all the factories continued crushing in Mohol and the district administration, sugar Commissionerate as well as the state administration did not do anything to curb fresh sugarcane cultivation.

In addition, Mohol also has one more sugar factory planned[15] by a politician, with a capacity of crushing 6,40,000 tonnes of sugarcane, which will additionally require 133 MCM water at farm and 222 MCM water at source to cultivate this sugarcane and 9,600 lakh litres of water to crush this sugarcane.

Other drought affected districts Similar situation prevails in Osmanabad, Beed, Jalna, Parbhani in Marathwada which are reeling under severe drought and where drinking water itself has becomes scarce. Osmanabad crushed 26.35 LT of sugarcane through its 9 sugar factories[16]. Significantly, here the district Collector had written a letter in November 2012 to the Sugar Commissionerate to suspend cane crushing in Osmanabad in face of drought[17]. Nothing was done about that recommendation. To top this, 10 more factories are planned in Osmanabad. In the case of Beed, in addition to the existing 8 factories, 14 are in pipeline, Ahmednagar has 20 with 8 in pipeline, Latur has 12 existing and 5 in pipeline and Satara has 11 existing and 14 in pipeline.[18] Looking at the impact of existing sugar cultivation and factories on the water supplies in drought affected regions, the impact of these additional factories is difficult to imagine. The impact of water use and pollution caused by sugar factories and distilleries manufacturing alcohol will be additional.

Absence of credible sanctioning process for new capacities How did these factories get permissions from the Sugar Commissionerate which is the nodal sanctioning authority for sugar factories in Maharashtra? What role did the district administration play? What role do the Agriculture Department as well as the Water Resources Department play in this sanctioning process? What role do the farmers and people have in this sanctioning process? Who decides these are sustainable, just decisions? These are not just rhetorical questions. If prudent answers to these questions not found, Maharashtra water crisis may only get worse in days to come.

Enslaved to sugarcane With a growth cycle of 11-17 months, sugarcane cultivation locks up the farmers, the state and the system in a vicious cycle of irrigation at any cost. On an average, sugarcane requires irrigation twice a month. Once planted, the farmers have no choice but to look for all options to irrigate it. And the sugar mills have no options but to crush the sugarcane and the downstream water consumption lock in only grows. Since the whole product cycle is so long, once the crop is in place, everyone tries to get the necessary water to run the system, irrespective of drought, water scarcity, irrespective of impact on other sections of society or on long term sustainability. The whole state machinery is a slave to the survival of the sugar manufacturing process, it seems. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General, in its report for five years ending in 2007 have reported how the Sugar Commissionarate sanctioned capacities without considering water availability.

In this situation, it is very important to have credible checks before allowing more sugar factories or expansion of existing sugar factories. However, the basic checks and balances to ensure only sustainable sugarcane crushing capacity is installed seems to have completely failed in Maharashtra. There is no acknowledgement of this reality. In absence of prudent decision making process, the repercussions are bound to be painful and far reaching, the poor and likely to be the worst sufferers.

How much do the small farmers and poor benefit from sugar boom in Solapur? It is true that large number of small farmers and agricultural labourers, including dalits and other backward classes are also benefiting from sugar boom in drought affected districts of Maharashtra. However, a number of researchers have pointed out[19] that benefits to these sections are far less as compared to other sections. Secondly, the adverse impact of allocating most of available water to sugarcane on rest of the sections is disproportionately felt. For example, farmers near Bhima river in Helli village just as Bhima leaves Maharashtra say that most of the times, there is no water in the river and their weir never gets filled due to abstraction in the upstream. What about these small holding farmers? Today there does not seem to be even an acknowledgement of the collateral damage this sugar boom in Solapur and other drought affected districts is causing. As Osmanabad collector said, currently in villages with sugarcane, there is no drinking water. And as Daya Pawar’s poem given above narrates, it is the women of the poor sections that are facing the worst adverse impacts. Moreover, no one is asking how sustainable are these benefits and what will happen when even the sugar mills bust, as they are bound to?

Women trying to collect water from the dry Seena in Madha where 5 sugar factories will come up. March 2013. Photo: SANDRP
Women trying to collect water from the dry Seena in Madha where 5 sugar factories will come up. March 2013. Photo: SANDRP

When Sweet Lime plantations over thousands of hectares died in Marathwada in the absence of water this year and when hapless farmers set their own horticultural plantations on fire as they could not bear to witness the wilting and dying trees they planted, sugarcane still continued to get water. So while there is a lobby to protect the sugarcane farmers, no such luck for other farmers.

Burnt Sweet Lime plantations in Osmanabad. Courtesy: Times of India
Burnt Sweet Lime plantations in Osmanabad. Courtesy: Times of India

Once farmers have cultivated sugarcane, the sugar industries hide behind the farmers saying what will happen to the farmers if factories do not process this cane. While the risk of cultivating sugarcane and fighting for its water falls on the farmers, sugar industries are insulated from any risk, in the name of farmers and can continue crushing, using thousands of lakhs of litres of water and polluting even more water.

Is drip irrigation the ultimate solution? In the entire discourse on the costs and efficiency of sugarcane in Maharashtra, the water angle, which is of a paramount importance as demonstrated this year, is the most neglected. Institutes like Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) (For every quintal of sugar generated by Sugar Factories, Rs 1 goes to VSI) and the Sugar Commissionerate seem strategically silent on this. When we contacted the drip irrigation cell in Vasantdada Sugar Institute to inquire about the area of sugarcane under drip irrigation, we were told by the person in-charge that Drip Irrigation Cell itself does not have these figures. This indicates either that this data is not available or they are not ready to share available information

Maharashtra Chief Minister and Commission on Agriculture Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture have said this year that there is need to make drip irrigation mandatory for sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra. This looks more like a band aid solution, which will continue the status quo of massive sugarcane cultivation in drought prone areas without asking if this is sustainable. In absence of such questions, drip irrigation could become a reason to continue to expand unsustainable sugar mills and sugarcane cultivation in drought prone areas, effectively using more water.

While claiming that Maharashtra has the highest efficiency of sugarcane in the country, it is forgotten that if crop duration and water consumption factors are added in the equation, Uttar Pradesh is more efficient than Maharashtra by a whopping 175%.[20] Maharashtra consumes on an average 1000 litres more water than UP to produce 1 kilogram of sugar.

In the end, while the High Court decision on releasing water for Ujani from upstream dams is welcome in one sense, the water releases from upstream dams is likely to be used up for the same unsustainable sugarcane cultivation in Solapur and along the way in Pune region. There is an urgent need to look at the bigger picture as to how in the water situation worsened so much in Solapur that the region producing most sugarcane does not have drinking water. Drought is a common phenomenon in this region for centuries, as described by the Solapur district Gazetteer. Solapur experiences drought once in every five years. In the context of climate change, rainfall will become more unreliable and drought more frequent. But if corrective steps are not taken about the unsustainable sugar boom in Solapur, we may be inviting worst disasters in future. These include encouraging sustainable cropping pattern including oilseeds, cereals and millets.

It is high time there is a public debate about why Sustainable Sugar won’t rhyme with Solapur other drought prone districts in Maharashtra.  There is an urgent need to stop setting new sugar factories in these regions, review the existing ones through credible independent process and ensure that lessons learned during the 2012-13 drought are not forgotten soon.

 -Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com), Himanshu Thakkar  (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), with  inputs from Damodar  Pujari (damodar.sandrp@gmail.com)


South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (https://sandrp.in/news)


Annex 1


Table 1: Taluka wise Rainfall in Solapur district in 2012 monsoon (June-Oct)

Source: http://www.mahaagri.gov.in/rainfall/index.asp


Taluka Name

Normal Rain (mm)

Actual Rain (mm)

% To Normal

N. Solapur




S. Solapur














































Table 2 Sub basin wise area of Solapur district

(Area in sq km)

Note: Information from Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission, numbers in first column as per the same report; taluka wise area figures following http://solapur.nic.in


Sub basin No Sub Basin Name Talukas of Solapuar in the sub basin (area of the taluka in sub-basin) Area of Solapur in the sub-basin Solapur area in the sub basin as % of sub basin area
17 Bhima upto Ujani Karmala (930)



18A Remaining BhimaNEERA Malshiras (1065)



18 B D/s of Ujani including Man Malshiras (457) + Sangola (1550) + Pandharpur (1304) + Madha (813) + Mohol (565) + S Solapur (146) + Mangalwedha (1141)



19 A Sina Madha (732) + Mohol (843) + S Solapur (718) + Akkalkot (80) + N Solapur (736) + Barshi (1483) + Karmala (680)



19 B Bori-Benetura Akkalkot (1310) + S Solapur (331)






Table 3: Profile of Solapur district[21]

Area in ‘000 ha


Geographical area


Sown area


Net Irrigated area


Canal irrigated area


GW irrigated


Sugarcane area 2007-08





Table 4: Taluka wise crushing capacities of existing and proposed sugar factories in Solapur

(crushing capacity in T/day)


Existing sugar factories

Planned sugar factories

Number of Factories[22] Crushing Capacity Number of Factories[23] Crushing Capacity









































North Solapur





South Solapur











Note: For some of the proposed factories where we could not get figures of crushing capacity, we have assumed it to be 2500 T/d, the normal minimum capacity. Source: Sugar Commissionarate, Pune


[1] From Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, Zed books, Vandana Shiva, 1988

[3] Vasant Dada Sugar Institute Magazine DnyanYaag 2012

[4] Sugar Commissionarate Maharashtra: Crushing Figures as on 11th April 2013

[5] Please see Annex 1 Table 1 for Taluka-wise rainfall in the district during June-Oct 2012 monsoon

[7] Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Price Policy for Sugarcane, the 2013-14 Sugar Season Report: puts Maharashtra average productivity at 80 tonnes per hectare, Vasant Dada Sugar institute Report Dnyan Yag 2012 puts it 83 tonnes per hectare. We have assumed 81 tonnes/ hectare.

[8] Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Price Policy for Sugarcane, the 2013-14 Sugar Season Report: Chapter 5

[9] CACP chairman Prof Gulati clarified to us through email on April 21, 2013, the water requirement per Tonne sugarcane produced, as given in the CACP report is calculated at farm and the irrigation efficiency would depend on the source.

[10] www.mahawrd.org: dam storages

[12] Sakhar Diary 2013, a leading reference book for sugarcane cultivators and factories in Maharashtra.

[13] Certifying that the new factory locations are 25 km or more from the nearest existing sugar factories, as per the Dec 2012 notification from Govt of India.

[14] Sugar Commissionerate, April 2013

[15] Sakhar Diary 2013

[16] Sugar Commissionerate 11 April 2013

[18] Sakhar Diary 2013

[19] See for example Vandana Shiva reference above or http://www.academia.edu/172012/Growth_and_Poverty_In_Maharashtra

[20] CACP, Ministry of Agriculture Report, Chapter 5

[22] Source: Sugar Commisionerate Maharashtra, 2012-13 Crushing figures

[23] Source: Sakhar Diary 2013


How Efficient is Maharashtra’s Sugarcane Crop?

That question may sound slightly irreverent and irrelevant.

Maharashtra is the highest sugar producing state of India. Its sugarcane yield in 2011-12 was 80.1 t/ha, compared to the yield of 59.6 t/ha for the second highest sugar producing state Uttar Pradesh and national average of 70.3 t/ha. The average sugar recovery rate of the four sugarcane cultivation methods in Maharashtra was 11.32% in 2011-12, the recovery rate of Adsali sugarcane was even higher at 12.3%. The Maharashtra average was way above that of UP at 9.16% and all India rate of 10.2%. In fact the land productivity adjusted for recovery rate is even higher for Maharashtra at 98.8 t/ha (161.14 t/ha for Adsali) compared to 61.04 t/ha for UP. The yield per month when adjusted for recovery rate is 7.56 t/ha/month compared to 6.33 t/ha/month for UP.


 So with the highest production, high yield and high recovery rate, there should be no question of efficiency of Maharashtra sugarcane crop.


Methods of Sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra Let us understand the basic parameters of how sugarcane crop is grown in Maharashtra, see the table 1 below.

 Table 1. Basic parameters of sugarcane crop in Maharashtra in 2011-12


Source: Price Policy for Sugarcane: the 2013-14 Sugar season, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Aug 2012, Table 5.1

 Of the four sugarcane cultivation methods prevalent in Maharashtra, Ratoon is most popular with 40% cane area under it, possibly since it has shortest duration at 11 months, fitting almost perfectly with the annual Oct to March cane crushing season. Same can be said about Suru method, having duration of 12 months and coverage of 20%, both methods requiring 22.5 irrigations, each of 7.5 cm depth. Adsali method has the highest yield and recovery rate, but only 10% of the sugarcane area is under this method, possibly since it has the longest duration at 17 months. It is most water intensive, requiring 32.5 irrigations. Pre-seasonal method, as the name suggests, is planted about 2.5 months before the season, and stands between Ratoon and Adsali in terms of duration, yield and recovery rate.


 Water Productivity The latest report from CACP from which the above figures are taken, however states that land productivity alone does not give correct picture, “…as land and water are increasingly becoming scarce in India with high opportunity costs. Therefore, the real resource cost of growing sugarcane in different regions cannot be correctly compared unless land productivity is normalised for the time duration of crop, its water intake, and its recovery rate.” To make such a comparison, CACP made a table, a part of which is given above in Table 1.

 However, CACP has gone a step further than the figures in Table 1 (though there is an error in CACP calculations here, we have pointed this out to CACP). CACP has calculated water productivity of different sugarcane methods in Maharashtra and compared them with the water productivity in UP. The average water productivity of sugarcane in Maharashtra comes to 0.403 T/ha/month/’000 m3 water, compared to 1.11 for UP. This means that while UP seemed inefficient in sugarcane productivity in everyway, Maharashtra is inefficient by 175.43% when productivity per unit of water consumption is considered.

Dry Seena in Madha Block Solapur

 How is this possible? The reason why sugarcane productivity of UP in terms of water is higher is simple: UP sugarcane crop is of shorter 9-10 months duration and requires only 7-8 irrigations, approximately less than once a month. As against this, Maharashtra sugarcane crop requires irrigation every 15 days and that too for longer duration. To put it another way, while on average Maharashtra needs 25 irrigations for sugarcane crop, UP needs 7.6.

Water required per kg of sugar The CACP report further calculates that in Maharashtra every kilogram of sugar needs 2068 litres of water, where as in UP the requirement is almost half, at 1044 litres. This is indeed a telling figure. Add to it, as CACP report puts it, “real cost of water in Maharashtra is at least 2 to 3 times higher than that in UP”.

In response to a specific question, CACP chairman Dr Ashok Gulati wrote to me that this water calculation does not include the water used by sugar mills. If water used by sugar mills and water used in further downstream processing is included, the water consumption in sugar production is will go up substantially.

This analysis is very relevant for a state like Maharashtra that has much lower rainfall and per capita water availability compared to northern states like UP and Bihar. It is even more relevant when 79.5% of Maharashtra’s sugarcane is grown in drought prone districts as we showed in another blog.

How sugar mills lock up Maharashtra’s water future Considering water becomes even more important, looking at the kind of impact sugarcane cultivation is having in Maharashtra this drought season. Here it may be recalled that sugarcane is a long duration trans-season crop that has implications for water consumption beyond the point where decision for planting is taken. So even if the rainfall is normal or above when the crop is planted, the same crop will continue to have high water demand in the following year when it may be drought year. This creates really serious implications for water availability in the drought year particularly in drought prone, low rainfall areas. The impact on water available becomes even more serious in a state like Maharashtra where sugar mills are set up irrespective of water availability, violating the norms of distances, where sugar factories operate at way beyond their sanctioned capacity, where they violate the norms of no more than 5% of cultivable land under sugarcane, they dump untreated effluents into water bodies, thus polluting the water in such water bodies and so on. The lock in becomes even more stronger with the setting up of sugar mills, since their owners would like to get maximum cane every year, irrespective of water availability situation.

Sugarcane going to factories in drought affected Nagar District in March 2013

 The CACP report says Maharashtra is further worse off in terms of cost of providing water for sugarcane, “If this costing is included in calculating water productivity, the difference in sugarcane yields will be so high that, Uttar Pradesh and presumably Bihar, would turn out to be the most efficient producers of sugar per unit cost of water, adjusted for time duration and recovery.” CACP goes on to say that Maharashtra sugarcane grown on 3% of the total cropped area of the state, takes away 60% of irrigation water in the state, “leading to massive inequity in the use of water within the state”. These figures might be slightly outdated considering the expansion of sugar factories and sugarcane cultivation in recent years.

Band aid solutions won’t help One recommendation CACP report makes for Maharashtra is that much of sugarcane in the state must be brought under drip. Even the Chief Minister of State and the Union Agricultural Minister has made same recommendation. We are not sure if this is really a solution since this is unlikely to curb the unsustainable levels of sugarcane in drought prone districts of Maharashtra, considering the politics involved in the issue with large number of politicians owning sugar factories.

As per the Maharashtra Economic Survey figures for last two years, Maharashtra has provided subsidy for drip irrigation in 5.68 lakh ha and for sprinkler irrigation in 2.33 lakh ha between 2005-06 and 2011-12, thus providing subsidy for covering 8.01 lakh ha for these two techniques in these seven years. However, we see no impact of so much area under the drip and sprinkler irrigation on water situation in the state, nor do we see much of sugarcane under drip. State institute like the VSI does not even know how much sugarcane is under drip even though it has a section just for drip irrigation. More investment in drip for sugarcane is likely to give reasons for expansion of sugarcane empire in drought prone districts, in addition to opening the doors for more corruption.

 Another method called Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative can help the farmers to produce at least 20 per cent more sugarcane, and that too with 30 per cent of reduced water consumption and 20 per cent less chemical inputs. CACP report, though is silent on this.


Options like drip irrigation and sustainable sugarcane initiative should be explored for sugarcane cultivation in relatively water rich areas. However, in immediate future, Maharashtra needs to cancel all new licenses for sugar mills and put a halt to new mills and expansion of existing sugar mills in drought prone districts. For existing sugar factories, it needs to decide the level of sustainable sugarcane cultivation in each drought prone district through a transparent, independent process. Immediately in this drought year, no more water should be allowed to be used for sugarcane cultivation in drought prone districts.

Maharashtra faces a very challenging water future even if all these steps are implemented. Its water future is very bleak if no serious move is made in this direction.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (www.sandrp.in)


1. Price Policy for Sugarcane: the 2013-14 Sugar season, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Aug 2012 http://cacp.dacnet.nic.in/RPP/Sugarcane-2013-14.pdf

2. How is 2012-13 Maharashtra Drought worse than the one in 1972?, March 2013, SANDRP, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/how-is-2012-13-maharashtra-drought-worse-than-the-one-in-1972/

3. Economic Survey for Maharashtra for 2011-12 and 2012-13

4. Sugarcane leaves farmers crushed, Business Line, April 15, 2013