Water is perhaps the common theme around which politics of Latur — a parched district in Marathwada — have been woven over the years. And as the district prepares to vote next Monday, candidates of all political parties have made promises to solve the perennial problem of the area. Not surprisingly then, the age-old promise of a closed water pipeline to bring water from Ujjani dam, 176 km from the region, has also resurfaced.
The project, which was first raised in 2009 by BJP MP Rekhatai Patil, finds an echo in the Congress camp with candidates like Amit and Dhiraj Deshmukh — the sons of former chief minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh — promising its execution.
This is the second consecutive year, when water scarcity has raised its ugly head in Latur. While rainfall over the last fortnight has alleviated water crisis, around 15 tankers are still used to ferry water in the rural parts of the district. At its peak, around 150 tankers were in operation with the district collectorate talking about starting tankers from December last year.
One of the reasons for this is poor rainfall — the district has received 516 mm rainfall till the end of September, as against the normal 725.3 mm. Also, Manjara, a major dam in the region which looks after the drinking water needs of the district, has dried up.
In 2016, Latur had hit the national headlines when portable water was transported to the area using railway wagons from Miraj in Sangli. While both the ruling BJP as well as the opposition Congress has been raking up the water crisis in its campaigns, one of the projects that has clinched the limelight is the closed pipeline project to transport water from Ujjani dam. With a capacity of 110 TMC, the dam stands at the tail end of the Bhima system. Marathwada has long staked claims on its water, which otherwise flows down to neighbouring Karnataka.
During their campaign recently, the Deshmukh brothers blamed the BJP-led government for failing to solve Latur’s problem. “We will get the project executed in the shortest possible time,” they said. The BJP, which had first made the project its election issue in 2009, now says it is not “feasible”. Abhimanyu Pawar, the BJP’s candidate from Ausa seat in the district, blamed the “inaction” of the Deshmukhs for the region’s water woes.
“The closed pipeline project would require lifting water in around four phases, and the monthly electric charges would come to around Rs 40-50 lakh per month. For the cash-strapped Latur Municipal Corporation, this would be impossible to bear,” Pawar claimed. He pointed out that a survey undertaken in 2014-15 had pegged the total cost of the project at around Rs 850 crore. “The project would be not be feasible,” he said.
Instead, Pawar mentioned that the state government was working on a project under which water from the Sina Kolegaon project, in neighbouring Osmanabad district, would be brought to Latur. “The project is in its final stages and Latur’s water woes will be over in the next 14-15 months,” he claimed.
For voters in Latur, water perhaps remains an unsolved problem which keeps on raising its head during the election season. Atul Deulgaonkar, an environmentalist-cum-journalist from Latur, points out how the effect of climate change was no where to be found in the election campaign or planning. “What we need is to recycle water, instead of talking about expensive projects,” he said.