Do you recall the September 1993’s devastating earthquake that shook most of Marathwada, but which also touched places as far as Satara? Yet, since its epicentre was close to Latur in Ausa, and since it was the first stopping point for journalists venturing into the area, it got a moniker — ‘Latur Earthquake’. That is how it is known and will be known. It is so even in World Bank records, which had stepped in with help for rehabilitation.
Now Marathwada is in the grip of an acute water scarcity whose intensity was foretold due to the scanty rains, unlike that earthquake. Since drinking water shortages of that proportion affects more people than a mere agricultural distress due to droughts, there is a general despondency because it is a triple whammy: losses on farms, slowdown of economy, and parched throats.
Is the drinking water shortage of the prevailing intensity confined only to Latur for we see the media focusing on it alone? It isn’t. It is so in Parbhani where too the district administration had to impose propitiatory orders to ensure none stole the nectar of life and disturb the presumed equity in its distribution. Each and every Marathwada district is in its clutches and as the summer peaks, the fears of worsening follow.
That excessive focus on Latur and less attention towards other parts of the region may lead to some unequal benefits to the suffering. Probably there are as many reporters there now as during the aftermath of the ‘quake. Now we suddenly have the district collector who has “scotched reports that it has run out of water, stating that it had not sent any SOS to the state to send water from other districts.” This report in The Indian Express is likely to be denied for it goes against both the perception and reality.
The fact is that acute scarcities prevail everywhere, as much as it does in Thane, to a much lesser extent in Mumbai, and any water is welcome. But when the district collector claims that “we have enough water”, is it a case of needless hullaballoo? It can’t be because neutral sources from Latur have been speaking for long about the “worst crisis”. This “no SOS” claim comes even as a special train was carrying half a million litres (not gallons) of water to Latur.
Today’s The Hindu reported from Latur that “Along the way, in Sangli (district), the taluks of Drhat (sic) and Athpadi, meanwhile, passed resolutions on Monday afternoon demanding a share of water which was passing through their territory”. Their “agitation reportedly delayed the progress of the train from Miraj” which had ten tankers. Which means, Sangli, the source of water for Latur, too has water scarce regions. We haven’t heard much about it, have we?
This is by no means an argument that Latur did not deserve the water-carrying train. If you doubt its efficacy, imagine living without water for two days, rushing to the water tankers which adhere to their own indifferent timings, and you have to carry on with your life. And imagine the domestic dislocations too – the lady of the house would be in a tizzy which those without water can scarce imagine. It is scary. Can drive one nuts.
This focus on one city, one district, is quite reminiscent of the aftermath of the earthquake named after it. The focus was so intense that even the do-gooders made a beeline to the town with relief material which just piled up even before the machinery was ready to distribute it, and other areas went short despite deserving of such immediate relief from NGOs. In the extant case, the Maharashtra government has responded like the NGOs did then.
Take Udgir, a taluk headquarters within Latur district, which has a population of over a lakh according to the census 2011, which is about a fifth of urban Latur’s. It too has been in the grip of scarcity conditions and matches Latur in the level of distress. Osmanabad is no different, and yet, it is the Latur. Latur could become a metaphor for drinking water scarcity but it cannot be the focal point. Or else, they are missing the woods for the forests.