MAHARASTRA (Marathwada): The adage is there is darkness under the lamp.
This holds true for the Marathwada region which is reeling under intense
drought for the fourth consecutive year. Marathwada region produces roughly
quarter of India’s sugar but presently it is facing severe shortage of drinking
water and food.
The drought in the Marathwada region is due to
the combination of multiple factors like poor water management, unbridled
corruption, cultivation of water-intensive crops like sugarcane and Bt Cotton,
and the absence of a long term policy and measures to manage water and drought.
Promotion of Sugarcane cultivation and Bt Cotton
is not new to the region. Vandana Shiva, a noted environmental activist, in her
research showed that like 1965 drought which was used to force the Green
revolution in India, the 1975 drought in Maharashtra was used to promote
sugarcane cultivation by the World Bank, which requires intensive irrigation
based on tubewells and borewells.
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Marathwada falls in the rain shadow region of
the Western Ghats. It receives annual rainfall between 600-700 mm. Given the
rocky field and soil only average 10 % water goes into ground to recharge well,
which is insufficient. The region is part of a deficient river basin and can’t
afford to cultivate water intensive crop. There is cause-effect between crop -
sugarcane and Bt cultivation in Marathwada and the drought and farmers
Sugarcane is a water intensive crop and requires
1200 mm of water, which is roughly 20 times more than the annual recharge rate.
It is simple mathematics to calculate that the rate of recharge of the
groundwater is way below than the extraction. Of course, the region is now
staring at famine.
The worst hit districts are Latur and Solapur,
which got the media headlines not for the scarcity of water and the severe
hardship the people are facing, but for receiving a water train after three
years of steady drought. No measures, have been taken, to ensure long term
relief leaving experts to point that the districts are not going to be free of
drought and shortage of drinking water in the foreseeable future.
Latur, for instance, cultivates the largest
amount of sugarcane in Marathwada. Latur has 45,000 hectares of land under
sugar farming. However, it has only 7,000 hectares of land suitable for sugar
farming; which implies indiscriminate use of groundwater to maintain this level
of cultivation. According to Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency data,
in 2016, there has been a depletion of 3 metres in groundwater levels in Latur.
Solapur, as per National Agriculture Research
Project (NARP) classification of Agro-climatic zones of the country, fall under
the scarcity zone MH-6 security zone. Still, this district houses the largest
number of sugar factories - 32 in Maharashtra. Latur has 10 sugar mills of the
70 sugar factories in the Marathwada region.
Sugar factories have contributed considerably to
the drought. As Pradeep Purandare, former expert member of the Maharashtra
Development Board said, “it takes 25,000 litres of water to irrigate 1 kilogram
of sugar”. He further pointed out that on an average, 25,00,000 litres of water
are required to crush 2500 tonnes of sugar cane a day. The quantum of water
needed for sugar farming industry is indicative of the intense pressure on
Since 1995, more than 300,000 farmers have
committed suicide in India. It is ironical that most of the suicides took place
in Bt Cotton areas. Marathwada, in fact, is being labeled as the “suicide
capital” of India.
Bt Cotton needs more water and it is also a fact
that it fails if assured irrigation is not available. Therefore, Bt Cotton
hybrids are not suited for water deficient regions like Marathwada and Vidarbha.
Bt toxins in Bt Cotton is a major factor which
is destroying soil organisms and thereby, reducing the water-holding capacity
of the soil. Bt toxin kills soil organism and eventually, it makes the soil
Thus, on the one hand sugarcane farming is
consistently depleting the groundwater level and the other hand, Bt cotton is
destroying water holding capacity of the soil by destroying its organism. The
profit motive of private sugar mill’s owner and big seed multinationals like
Monsanto, which is promoting Bt Cotton, have combined to push the region into a
vicious cycle of drought. The apathy of the government, the high scale
corruption and the indifference of the media have exacerbated the crisis that
has assumed almost unmanageable proportions.
(This article was first published at
thecitizen.in. Amit kumar Jha works for Centre for Policy Analysis, New Delhi.
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)