Economists and water experts have warned of “desertification”
in the water scarce Marathwada region of Maharashtra. They have further said
that the water crisis in the region is a policy induced failure.
According to experts, though rainfall in Marathwada
is below normal, it is enough to meet the basic drinking water and household
needs of the populace besides leaving enough water for one crop.
However, an unsustainable cropping pattern which
has led to indiscriminate pumping of groundwater has depleted groundwater
tables to an extent where rejuvenation has become impossible. According to data
by the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency, the water table had dropped
alarmingly in 70 of the 76 talukas, with more than 25 reporting a drop of more
than two metres.
Given the arid climatic conditions in
Marathwada, cereal and oilseeds had been the main crops traditionally
cultivated in the region. However, predominant crops here are soybean and Bt
Cotton which are not conducive for the region. Further, sugarcane cultivation
and sugar mills have worsened the situation.
The sugarcane crop is a water guzzler. On an
average, sugarcane in Maharashtra requires 2,063-2,468mm of rainfall on one
hectare to complete the crop’s 12-to-18 month cycle. Further, according to the
Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), it takes 2,515 litres of
water to produce a kilogram of sugar.
However, despite being such a water-intensive
crop, sugarcane grows to continue in the arid and water scarce Marathwada. This
is primarily because sugarcane offers an assured price to the farmers which
other crops fail to provide.
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