Providing clean water to a swelling population is expected to be one of the biggest challenges for the Indian state in the coming years, a task that won't be made any easier by falling ground water levels and water pollution. However, in a state like Maharashtra which is already grappling with one of its worst water shortages in year, is too much water being cornered by private groups at the cost of the marginalised?
In a scathing editorial in the Hindu, Magsaysay award winner and journalist P Sainath argues that it isn't purely rising demand, but a flawed water allocation policy by the Maharashtra government that is to be blamed for the shortage of water in the state.
The editorial points to the rise of water parks in the state, golf courses that have sparked conflict with farmers, water meant for industrial projects being diverted for private developers of real estate projects, and the encouragement for sugar and rose crops despite the fact they were consuming more than a rational share of water resources.
Pointing out the power of the sugar crop lobby in the state, one reportedly patronised by Agriculture minister and NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, Sainath says:
Even as foodcrop declines, fully two-thirds of Maharashtra’s sugarcane is grown in drought-prone or water scarce areas. At least one Collector had called for sugarcane crushing in his district to be suspended during this crisis. The sugar factories there together use up to 90 lakh litres a day. Given the power the sugar barons wield, the Collector is more likely to be suspended than the crushing.
Sainath's blunt criticism of the the Maharashtra government comes even as parts of the state grapple with severe drought with farmers in some parts being forced to take extreme measures to deal with the water shortage.