Water Crisis in Maharashtra

Submitted by Hindi on Tue, 04/19/2016 - 16:19
A Report by ‘Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’ for National Commission for Women, January, 2005, Page 63-68.

For Maharashtra drought hit belt, water is an abiding concern. For instance, Rukhmani, mother of three walks three kms every day to fetch two huge vessels of water illegally from a government reservoir. She handles the housework for an hour and once again readies herself for another three km walk. Rukhmani makes such three trips every day. Dilip Aniba Adsure, a small farmer from Manglur village in Latur district, cycles around balancing two big can and vessels on his cycle. Wherever, Adsure sights water, he fills up (Desh Pande 2004)

This is the tale in the 52 villages in the Marathwada belt of Maharashtra. Devasted by earthquake nearly a decade ago, these villages rehabilitated far away from their original site, are now affected by severe drought. In majority of these villages, angry villagers have destroyed taps or wanted it up with thorny bushes or barbed wire.

People have punched a hole in the pipeline and taken a connection. Even then water come after five or six days for less than hour. The state government is not even sending tankers to the villages.

For some people in Ashti taluk in Beed district of the state, food is not so important, they demand water. Some people spend Rs. 5 for two canes of water. The water often is dirty. People do not have any choice, but to drink dirty water. At some places in the morning, there is barely enough water to fill a small pot, large cans are placed in the queue at night (Menon 2004)

Drought has virtually come to stay for the fourth year in succession in Beed district, one of the three worst affected districts in Marathwada region. Traveling through the critically affected taluk, one can see bullock carts ferrying large plastic cans of water, tanker operation extract water from some bore wells and sell it. In the 177 villages of Ashti taluk, over 190 government tankers supply water daily, apart from 186 private tankers. Almost every water source including 25 to 30 large ponds and two minor irrigation projects have been dried up. Even the ground water level has dropped to 300 feet (Menon 2004)

Whatever water is left in the tanker, it is poured into a well, which is filthy and full of garbage. The women quickly drop buckets and other utensils into it. They use this water for washing and sometimes even drink it (Menon 2004)

Of the 353 talukas in the state, 71 talukas in 11 districts have the poor rain and have been declared as drought hit. 28 talukas consisting of 2789 villages are in Pune, Satara, Sangali and Solapur districts. The situation is so severe that for most of the farmers, the paisawari (average yield per acre) is less than 50%. (Jadhav 2004)

Keeping in view the gravity of the situation, the Ground Water Surveys and Development Agency (GSDA) has launched a ‘Water Audit’ project aimed at ensuring participatory water management in all the talukas in the state. The people in the selected village are being helped to set up a rain gauge. Observation wells to determine the ground water levels will be identified and the villagers will be asked to keep a daily record of the rainfall and the ground water levels (Kulkarni 2004)

The villagers will also be asked to study cropping patterns in the area and water requirement. They would be needed to note the number and capacity of water bodies. At the end of the monsoon, this data and details of the total rainfall and ground water levels will have to be put forth before the gram sabha. The villagers and the GSDA geologist will consider factors like the total rainfall, runoff and percolation and draw an approximate picture of the water regime in the area and plan their use accordingly. (Kulkarni 2004)

Maharashtra can be broadly divided into 5 regions – the high rainfall Konkan, the drought prone Marathawada, the sugar rich Western Maharashtra, the cotton growing black soils region Vidarbha and Northern Maharashtra.

The Konkan region has very high rainfall but the geological structure does not permit much storage. As a result of this there has been very little surface irrigation development in this region. This region is often referred to as the region of wet droughts. Rivers flow wildly during the monsoons but run totally dry in the post monsoon period. Several efforts have been made in the high rainfall Konkan region to harvest rainwater. However these efforts have been largely at an experimental level and have not really scaled up.

As opposed to Konkan are the low rainfall areas of Marathawada and parts of Northern Maharashtra and also the eastern belt of western Maharashtra where increasing pressure on the already scarce water and land resources is depriving a large section of the population in this region of livelihood security.

Another is the sugar rich belt of Western Maharashtra known for its ‘successful’ movement in the sugar co-operatives sector. Paradoxically it is this very powerful and successful force that has been the cause for the depletion of the states water resources. Only 3-4 % of the cultivated area is presently under sugarcane but it consumes almost 60% of the water available through irrigation In western Maharashtra and some parts of Marathawada we find that the area under sugarcane is increasing and so is the water consumption for this. The post 70’s period saw the rapid spread of this water intensive crop alongside the rapid growth in sugar co-operatives.

Massive investments were made in irrigation and energy projects to support the powerful sugarcane lobby. What earlier relied on the canal water from large irrigation projects now expanded to minor irrigation projects and well irrigation all together contributing greatly to ground water depletion. Most of the benefits of this development project have been concentrated in small pockets leaving a large section of the population, water and food insecure.

The impacts are for all to see. At present Maharashtra is facing a severe water crisis, which has been deepened by the state policies or rather the lack of it on its water resources. The year 2004 is considered as the worst ever drought that Maharashtra has faced. The reason certainly is not low and erratic rainfall alone but the lowered water tables due to the unregulated withdrawal of ground water. Ground water crisis in Maharashtra has deepened and the worst affected are the poor-, women, landless and small and marginal farmers. In 1960 there were some 5.4 lakh wells with about 8445 pumps but by 2001 there were 13 lakh wells and 22 lakh pumps. Just points to the enormous rate at which extraction of groundwater has taken place. In some parts of Maharashtra extraction rate equals or exceeds the rate of replenishment.

As far as drinking water is concerned as per the Government of Maharashtra statistics, between 1978-80, 12,753 villages had inadequate drinking water. To resolve this crisis the government introduced 15,085 tube wells in the period between 1974-80. The government claimed then that almost 11,000 were successful. In 1986, the figure for number of villages with inadequate drinking water increased to 14,000. In 1999 there were 5163 villages and 3193 vadis that were being provided water through tankers. Between 1997-2002 the state government claimed that it had solved the problem for 30741 villages. However at the end of 2002 there were about 22870 villages with a severe drinking water crisis. This deep crisis has left the poor and the vulnerable sections in a deep crisis.

Images of women carrying pots of water, walking miles and miles for one single pot are not new for the state of Maharashtra or for that matter most parts of the country. Women in Maharashtra have carried the water burden both as a result of scarcity and abundance. Drought, displacement due to dams and irrigation have all contributed to increasing the water burden of women.

Impact of scarcity

The impact of repeated occurrence of drought is known to be the worst on women and other deprived sections that depend largely on natural resources for their livelihoods. The effect on women can be broadly seen on their incomes, health and nutrition, and social status. All these impacts have a combined effect on the capabilities of poor rural women to secure their livelihoods.

Even in normal times women have to spend a significant proportion of their time in meeting basic household needs like domestic water, fodder and fuel. With occurrence of drought and with the degradation of the eco-system, women have to put in even more time and labour to collect less and less — both quantitatively and qualitatively — of water, fodder and fuel and have to hire out even more of their labour for a smaller than usual wage. This leaves women with very little time to engage themselves in any productive activity outside the house. It forces women to remain in subsistence.

Women from village Kalmadi, in Nandurbar district of North Maharashtra share their woes “forget about getting safe drinking water from wells, we spend most of our time locating streams and springs that could quench our thirst’’ Almost half a day is spent in locating such sources of water. This crisis has deepened in the last 8 years.”

Indutai Patil, ageD 60 years from the same village says “since I came to this village as a young bride I have been facing this problem of water scarcity. My hair has gone white but the search for water has not ended. As I am ageing the distance to the water source too is increasing.’

In Sindkheda taluka in Dhule district there are several dams like the Jamphal, Sulawade etc on the river Tapi, however all these are completely dry. Although this is a high rainfall area (1200-1500 mm) most of the rivers flow only in the monsoons and go dry 0immediately after. A common site in most of the villages here at any time of the day is that women are wandering in search of water with water pots on their heads. Although the government did take over two wells to resolve the drinking water problem an erratic power situation makes it difficult to pumping out water. Fetching water in this remote village is becoming an excruciating experience for the women.

For the women agricultural labourers this has meant a loss of incomes they say “We just cannot afford to spend our entire day looking for water, since we have to go for wage earning. But then we have to buy water for drinking. We earn about Rs.30 a day and spend about Rs. 15-20 on just getting some kind of water to quench our thirst- how do we live and what can we eat?”

In Mogarpada village in Sakri the story is no different. In this high rainfall area this is what women say ‘It rains heavily but no one thinks of harvesting water then and now getting just one pot of water too is such a task. We wake up in the morning and leave the house to fetch water.’ This is a small village with just 85 households. No bus goes to this village and there are no other amenities however the people of the village demand nothing except water.

Deterioration in health is caused by lack of nourishment and increase in workloads in drought years and in drought prone areas. Several studies have shown that increased incidence of anemia has been observed during drought years. Similarly instances of abortion and ailments related to reproductive organs have also been observed. Apart from the nutritional deficiencies health impact on women due to spread of water borne diseases, mortality and morbidity due to increased workloads has been observed across the region.

Permanent and seasonal migration of men to cities and irrigated areas leads to an apparent increase in the incidence of ‘women-headed’ households. The current crisis in different parts resulting from severe drought yet again demonstrate the extreme vulnerabilities of women and children, and the impact this slow on-set disaster is making on them. Incidents of sale of women and girl children, increase in female foeticide is much more in drought prone areas as per different studies and news reports.

Interesting developments have been observed in Jamner taluka where few people are willing to give their daughters in marriage to the boys from villages Vaghari and Saawargaon. Shantabai Sathe an old woman says ‘ I spent my entire life getting down into the river and fetching water. Now I am old and feeble and atleast at the end of my life I hope that I would be able to fetch water a little more easily. The Mental Hospitals in Sangli and Miraj have shown an increase in the cases of depression reported in the recent past and drought is cited as the main reason for this.

Impact of Water Crisis on Livelihood

Long term and widespread droughts have had long-standing impact on the status of the natural resources. This ecological degradation, contributing to drought, has led to the erosion of livelihoods. We see that degradation of forests, lands and lowering of water tables result in a similar impact on women, as would a single event of drought. But persistence of the situation creating drought prone areas has led to increased onus of subsistence on women. Added to this is the lack of opportunities in the non-farm sector thereby forcing migration to urban areas.

Canal irrigation has got its own set of problems for women. The case in question is the new irrigation schemes of the Minor Irrigation Department, Maharashtra. A few pilot projects are being launched in the state with financial support from the German organisation- KFW. These projects have an apparent air of being participatory from the very outset. The approach is thus referred to as Participatory Irrigation Development and Management (PIDM) thus claiming to be one step further to Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM). Here participation effectively means loading the infrastructure development costs on poor people.

Thus water is clearly treated as an economic good and costs incurred on developing the resource base have to be recovered. In this scheme the storage costs would be borne by the government but about 60% of the distribution costs (canal network) would be borne by the beneficiaries through a combination of contributions in the form of labour, cash and bank loans. How viable would such a scheme be is a much larger question, however what concerns us here is the women’s participation in it. Village Varve, in Pune district is one of the villages where this pilot scheme has been launched. Here women labourers were working on the canal network in large numbers. This labour was towards the labour contribution for the distribution network. The story is always the same on most irrigation sites. Women labour on the dams and build water storage structures but yet have to walk miles for drinking water. The same village was facing an acute water shortage. The women said that this was largely because of the increasing number of wells in the command area as well as in the village at large. The drinking water source had dried up and women are now forced to fetch water from longer distances. Some of those who have dug deep bore wells are in fact selling water in tankers to the near by companies.

If water is to be bought at such a high price, recovery in cash becomes an overriding concern in the choice of crops. This indicated the possibility of shifting over to more ‘paying’ crops to maximise monetary benefits from water. This would mean a shift from the low paying food crops to cash crops. This would encroach on the domain of women and other peasant households. The women said “ Now we will have to stop cultivating jowar and bajra and move over to either sugarcane or tomatoes and onions which can be sold in the Pune market. We have to buy jowar to eat. Of course these days we cannot afford to eat jowar so we mostly eat wheat chappatis”

Although a transition to sustainable cultivation of high value crops for industrial use will be essential, there is need to see the impact it has on the irrigated area under food crops. In Maharashtra this area has been gradually reducing. A crop plan that ensures diversity in the choice of crops will therefore be necessary. The important policy issue that gets flagged here is the need to provide affordable water for livelihoods of all.

Policies In Water: Does Gender Matter?

Without going into a detailed analysis of the gender sensitivity of the water policies a quick overview shows that women have not been on the agenda of irrigation policies or watershed management. None of these policies and interventions until recently had equity and sustainability on their agenda. The policies have so far promoted private accumulation at public costs. In this kind of a scenario access to protective irrigation to the small and marginal farmers for cultivation of cereals and pulses itself has never been on the agenda leave alone the question of equitable access to the landless and women.

While scarcity of water resources has made the government sit up and think on reforms to improve performance and meeting the financial requirements of sustaining the irrigation systems, its translation in practice means that water is treated as an economic good and therefore users must pay for it. The portrayal of severe ‘financial crisis’ of the government now justifies its stance to invite private corporations to build operate and transfer water systems. This raises some serious questions in the light of gender equity and sustainability of the resource itself.

Policies in watershed management too have not addressed the specific concerns of resource poor and women. Most of the successful watersheds talk of enhanced producitvity but hardly look at the equity and sustainability aspects at all. Further on visualisation of women’s participation in all such programmes does not extend beyond the formation of self-help groups. While the SHG has proved itself to be a robust agency in organising women it has not been able to connect itself to livelihood issues of women. This calls for a need for a serious review of all related policies through a gender lens. In this article we are merely flagging this as an issue needing further attention.

Emerging Alternatives

Any alternative will have to be based on restructuring of water sector on the principles of equity, sustainability and participation. Unless rational, equitable and sustainable use of water does not become a primary concern for the policy makers women and other resource poor will never be able to participate in the water governance. Here policy direction should be towards integrated management of water resources. This calls for pooling in of all local and exogenous, ground and surface water storages before planning for use and distribution is decided.

Any gender sensitive alternative in the water sector will have to ensure

1. Entitlements over water for women
2. Legal space for effective participation in decisions around water distribution and use
3. Need for understanding women’s water needs beyond the drinking water domain

Women have responded to these crises in different ways. Often these responses are seen as mere coping mechanisms ignoring the subjective dimensions of poor women’s lives. In adverse situations it is these ‘coping mechanisms’ that lead to very concrete alternatives. We would like to consider all such efforts of women as positive initiatives. It would be difficult to narrate all such initiatives where women have taken the lead and so here we would look at three initiatives in Maharashtra which focus on entitlements over water for agriculture.

The Khudawadi Experience: Landless Women’s Entitlement Over Canal Water:

Khudawadi village in the drought-prone Osmanabad district in Marathwada region is situated at the tail end of the Bori Medium Irrigation Project. It was only after the a water users’ association (WUA) was formed in the village around 1995-96. that it received a share of water. SOPPECOM an NGO working in the land and water sector supported the local organisation in the formation of the water users society. Apart from pressing for equity within the command the Khudawadi WUA agreed to earmark 15% of the water the WUA would receive from the Irrigation Department for the landless and women in the village. Along with this was the question of what the landless and women would do with the water if they do not have access to land. Here the role of the NGO was critical in building awareness around the need for use of water to develop wastelands and meet the specific needs of fuel and fodder primarily and then create a biomass base for enhancing income opportunities for women. Women’s groups therefore took up the initiative to innovate on different low external input but sustainable practices on wastelands and small plots.

The Bhusawal Experience: Nutrition Per Drop of Water

In Survade village of Bhusawal taluka, an effort is on to develop norms for access to land and water for assuring livelihoods of women. The presumption here is that access to minimum land (5 cents), assured water for that plot and 100 day’s wage cost in one year, could help a woman in 5 years time generate assets, which could give the household a permanent and consistent income for their sustenance.

The 100 days wages have been in the form of food for work as well as cash incomes. This wage support has essentially been used to develop the resource base, which in this case is soil fertility, and water resource. Water resource could be enhanced by building small bundharas on streams, deepening the existing wells and using the well water optimally. The idea is that this water would be shared equitably to meet the livelihoods of all the concerned households in the area. This has been planned with a women’s group who would have access to small plots for cultivation of vegetables and energy crops and a patch of irrigated forest.

Women have managed to get substantial gains through cultivation of fruits and vegetables for their own consumption. The vegetables and pulses alone have yielded an income of Rs 1500 from 4 gunthas in a period of 3-4 months after meeting their domestic needs. There has been no recurrent investment except the Rs 1500/guntha that was made in the initial one year. The women are now convinced of the results and are keen on continuing this method. Some of them are also practicing similar methods on their own farms.

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