Many regions of Maharashtra have been reeling under severe drought and water scarcity this year. Last week, the Chinese government took note of this and came ahead to offer help. It offered Rs 30 lakh to the Solapur Corporation to tackle water scarcity. The embassy said that the measure was a token of China’s gratitude towards the birthplace of Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis who had laid down his life while serving for the poor in China. Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi last week, seeking expeditious additional funds for the drought-hit villages. The Marathwada region of Maharashtra has no doubt been the worst-hit by drought.
The political, administrative and social reasons behind the drought have been well written about till now. But The Sunday Guardian tried to find out if there were any geographical reasons behind the drought. Experts said that the location of the region has traditionally rendered it into an area of low rainfall.
“Topographically, Marathwada is situated in such a way that it has always received less rainfall compared to the rest of Maharashtra. This has been the case for centuries. But even then, our farmers used to take Rabi crops in the same region. How was it possible then? And why are they committing suicides now? The reasons lie in how unrealistic demands we place on an area with a different natural endowment,” said Dr Ranjan Kelkar, former Director General of Indian Meteorological Department, who has studied the trends and patterns of monsoon in the country.
TOPOGRAPHY OF MARATHWADA
India gets its rains due to the southwest monsoon. The clouds draw water from the Indian Ocean, and deposit it on land. “The movement of southwest monsoon is like an inverse ‘S’. It doesn’t go straight from the Indian Ocean towards the Indian mainland. It enters the country from Kerala, swirls towards the north-east direction. When it reaches Maharashtra, it is first greeted by the Sahyadri mountain ranges. Due to these ranges, there is heavy rainfall in the coastal region of Maharashtra — Konkan. When the monsoon crosses the Sahyadris, it enters the rain shadow region, which is the western Maharashtra belt. It receives less rainfall compared to coastal Maharashtra. Then, the rainfall decreases by the time the monsoon reaches Marathwada. Vidarbha, which lies ahead in the monsoon’s course, gets more rainfall. This is because the clouds also draw water from the Bay of Bengal. That water is received by Vidarbha too in Maharashtra,” Dr Kelkar said.
“The water condition in Marathwada is not due to climatic conditions, but due to the geographic conditions of Maharashtra. The region is not as fortunate as Vidarbha. Its geographical location and topography has remained the same, and will remain the same. As a society and polity, we have to understand and work around that,” he said.
A.P. Deshpande, a scientist, said: “The question we need to ask is just how much of rainfall is insufficient rainfall? On an average, Marathwada receives 500 mm to 600 mm rain every year. If you look at it objectively, this much rainfall is not exactly less. But we don’t practise water conservation techniques, we don’t have sustainable practices. Rajasthan gets 50-60 mm rainfall, which in a true sense is scanty. But India’s waterman Rajendra Singh has been preserving water by using traditional storage methods, and replenishing groundwater sources.”
The tree cover of Marathwada has also reduced considerably from nearly 30% during the Nizam’s rule in the 1940s to less than 5% now. The borewell culture has led to utilisation of groundwater aquifers which take hundreds of years to refill. Experts said that the current government’s focus on replenishing groundwater by means of Jalayukta Shivar Yojana will be helpful for the region.
IS CLOUD SEEDING AN OPTION?
Due to the situation of water scarcity and drought in Maharashtra, the policy makers have also resorted to the option of artificial rain and cloud seeding. But the experiments have not yet been very successful in Maharashtra.
When asked about it, Dr Kelkar said, “There are two problems with it. First, cloud seeding has to be planned properly. It cannot be initiated at the eleventh hour. Moreover, it cannot be planned political constituency-wise.” In the past, the previous government tried the experiment in places of western Maharashtra which were prominent constituencies for a few political leaders.
“Cloud seeding has to take place after seeing the location of the clouds. It has to be done in the catchment area. You cannot say that artificial rainfall will happen over waterbodies only,” he said.
When asked if cloud-seeding was an effective option at all, he said, “In the past 60 years, this technique has seen tremendous progress. Worldwide, it has received approval of prominent agencies like the World Meteorological Organisation, the American Meteorological Society, and the Weather Modification Association of the US. So, as a technique, it doesn’t need to be proven anymore.”
But, he said, that the technique should not be used as an emergency measure. “It has to be a pre-planned strategy. It should be used to increase rainfall in the state. It should be used with the intention to address the agrarian crisis. It should be targeted on the water bodies and the catchment areas, and not on political constituencies,” he said.
India’s waterman Rajendra Singh said: “The need is replenishment of groundwater sources through partnership and participation of the community. The Jalayukta Shivar Yojana seems to be an honest attempt by an earnest Chief Minister to do it. But it will fail if contractors get involved in this. The only way it will succeed is through community partnership and community ownership.”