“Maharashtra’s Water crisis.”

“Maharashtra’s Water crisis.”

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details of “Maharashtra’s Water crisis.” This topic is relevant to the “Environment and Ecology.” section of the UPSC—CSE Exam.

About news:

Following last year’s insufficient monsoon season, the Maharashtra government declared numerous areas in the state affected by drought. This scenario starkly contrasts with the State’s coastal regions, where frequent heavy rainfall has resulted in significant flooding. Marathwada’s challenges are influenced by its geographic location, topography, soil composition, agricultural methods, and crop selections.

Rain-shadow effect:

  • Marathwada is situated in the rain-shadow area of the Western Ghats. Upon encountering these mountains, moist winds from the Arabian Sea ascend and cool, resulting in substantial rainfall (2,000-4,000 mm) on the western slopes.
  • However, when these winds cross the Ghats and descend into Western Maharashtra and Marathwada, they lose most of their moisture, leading to significantly lower rainfall (600-800 mm) in Marathwada.
  • Climate change exacerbates the situation in central Maharashtra, where drought severity and frequency have increased. Consequently, Marathwada and North Karnataka have emerged as the second driest regions in India after Rajasthan.

Effects of Rain-shadow areas on crops:

  • Due to its low rainfall, Marathwada’s crops are profoundly affected. Agricultural practices in the region are ill-suited to the climate, exacerbated by sugarcane cultivation, a major contributor to the water crisis. 
  • Sugarcane requires 1,50-2,50 cm of water during its growing season and demands nearly daily irrigation, unlike pulses and millets, which need only four or five irrigations per crop cycle.
  • Since the 1950s, the area under sugarcane has steadily increased until plateauing in recent years. Now, sugarcane occupies 4% of the total cropped area but consumes a staggering 61% of irrigation water. 
  • This shift has significantly reduced the average river outflow in the upper Bhima basin. Government policies supporting sugarcane pricing and sales have further expanded its cultivation, diverting irrigation from more nutritious crops.
  • Despite the Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission’s (1999) recommendation to restrict sugarcane cultivation in areas receiving less than 1,000 mm of rainfall annually, production has continued to grow. 
  • The government has been promoting sugarcane-juice-based ethanol production since December 2023, despite concerns over its sustainability in water-stressed regions where 82% of Maharashtra’s sugar is produced from low-rainfall areas.


Role of topography and soil:

  • The characteristics of soil and topography play crucial roles in Marathwada’s agricultural landscape. The region is predominantly endowed with clayey black soil, known locally as “regur,” which is fertile and adept at retaining moisture.
  • However, it has a low infiltration rate, leading to surface water runoff rather than groundwater recharge during rainfall. 
  • To mitigate this runoff, Maharashtra has invested in constructing numerous dams, making it the state with the most large dams in India (1,845).
  • The soil’s low hydraulic conductivity means it holds water for extended periods after rain, which can result in crop losses, as WELL Labs’ research in the area has observed. 
  • Despite the soil’s moisture-retentive properties, water scarcity in Marathwada varies significantly. The region is crisscrossed by parallel tributaries of the Godavari and Krishna rivers flowing southeast, each flowing through valleys separated by gently sloping hills.
  • These valleys typically have perennial groundwater, while upland areas rely on seasonal groundwater. Groundwater slowly migrates underground from uplands to valleys, causing wells in upland areas to dry up a few months after the monsoon season, exacerbating water scarcity in these regions. 
  • Therefore, these upland areas face severe water shortages and deserve targeted assistance to overcome their natural disadvantages.


Resilience of Marathwada:

  • Achieving water resilience in Marathwada hinges on strategic approaches that maximise available resources and promote sustainable practices. 
  • Supply-side solutions involve traditional watershed management techniques such as constructing water-conserving structures like contour trenches, earthen bunds, and gully plugs. These structures help retain rainwater, but they often accumulate silt, reducing their effectiveness over time. 
  • Leveraging funds from programs like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) could facilitate the design and implementation of silt-trapping mechanisms. Concurrently, training programs for farmers on regular desilting can increase the longevity and efficiency of these structures.
  • To manage water demand effectively in a region with limited rainfall, practices include adopting water-efficient irrigation methods, cultivating drought-resistant crops, and diversifying livelihoods. 
  • Marathwada should transition to high-value, low-water-consuming crops better suited to local conditions. Additionally, shifting sugarcane production to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal, where water resources are more abundant, is crucial for sustainable water management.
  • Fostering water resilience in Marathwada necessitates a holistic approach that balances conservation efforts with sustainable agricultural practices and economic diversification. 
  • By optimising water use, enhancing watershed management, and promoting crop diversification, Marathwada can mitigate water scarcity challenges and build resilience for the future.


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Mains  based Question:

Q. Cropping pattern in India is mainly driven by prices prevailing in the market irrespective of the climatic conditions. Critically analyse the role of the MSP and government subsidies in empowering farmers to practice sustainable agriculture practices.


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