Mercury rising: Centre fights drought with water train, borewell ban

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Even as many parts of the country continued to reel under severe heat wave conditions, the maximum temperature at several major cities – including the national capital – seemed poised to remain above 40 degrees Celsius on Wednesday. Delhi had registered a maximum temperature of 40.6 degrees Celsius, four notches above normal, the previous day.

The prevailing drought situation also worsened in rural areas across several states, even as the administration took steps to alleviate the situation.

Taking cognizance of the drought situation at Latur in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, the Railways has begun operating a 50-wagon train capable of transporting 25 lakh litres of water in a single trip to the region. The Jal Doot arrived in Latur from Miraj Junction on Wednesday morning.

The Maharashtra government, for its part, banned digging of borewells below 200 feet in the region to safeguard whatever was left of its water table. Officials said any violation of the rule was likely to invite stringent punishment – including fines and jail terms.

This decision came close in the heels of the state government’s April 17 decision to reduce water supply to industrial units, including breweries, in Aurangabad district.

The ruling BJP government in the state also witnessed internal rumblings as a party activist urged chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to stop the “VVIP helicopter tourism” of various state and central ministers to its drought-hit areas. In a letter to Fadnavis, BJP activist Dayanand Nene complained that over 10,000 litres of water was wasted to prepare a temporary helipad for receiving the helicopters of various state ministers when Bhiwandi – which was just driving distance from Thane – had a regular helipad.

According to an official of the Maharashtra irrigation department, dams across the state have only 19% water left compared to 32% at this time last year. In Marathwada, eight of the region’s 11 major dams are at dead storage level of 3%, which means that water from the reservoirs cannot flow out.

Many reasons – ranging from cultivation of the water-guzzling sugarcane crop to the indiscriminate digging of borewells – have been cited for worsening the drought situation in Marathwada, which has seen three deficient monsoons in a row.

Odisha and West Bengal also faced scorching weather on Tuesday as the mercury hovered around 45 degree Celsius in most parts of the state. With the IMD predicting severe heat wave conditions for at least three days from April 21 onwards, the Odisha government extended the school holidays till April 26 in drought-affected areas while retaining the mid-day meal scheme for the duration.

Meanwhile, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah continued to counter charges over two tankers of water (about 5,000 litres) being emptied on roads to prevent dust from rising during a visit to drought-hit areas of Bagalkot district. When criticised by the state opposition, he promised to ask the deputy commissioner to look into it.

The Centre, meanwhile, faced a different kind of heat when the Supreme Court questioned its handling of the drought-like situation in the country.

“It is the responsibility of the Centre to inform and warn that these states will receive less rainfall,” it said.

Both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have sought central assistance for relief from drought and drinking water scarcity.

Telangana panchayat raj minister KT Rama Rao on Tuesday said that the Centre had released a paltry amount of Rs 791 crore in response to the Rs 3,064-crore drought aid sought by the state. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, on the other hand, made a powerpoint presentation before Union rural development minister Chaudhary Birender Singh to demonstrate why the state needed a sum of Rs 10,000 crore to resolve its rural drinking water problems by 2019.

Hyderabad is facing an unprecedented water shortage, with all the four reservoirs catering to the city drying up for the first time in 30 years.

The city has not been able to draw any water from the Himayat Sagar, Osman Sagar, Singur and Manjira reservoirs, and is completely banking on the Krishna and Godavari rivers for its needs. Consequently, the Hyderabad Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board has been able to supply only 335 million gallons of water per day against the demand for 660 – resulting in a shortfall of about 47%.

Various factors – a second successive year of drought, falling ground water table and the scorching summer – have weighed down on the water needs of Greater Hyderabad’s over one-crore population.

As a report, Indian Space Research Organisation’s former chairman G Madhavan Nair said that the solution to the country’s present water scarcity problem lay in conserving each raindrop and putting in place an efficient resource management system.

Nair, who believes that the water resource ministry should join hands with the department of space to alleviate the situation, also suggested that check-dams be built on riverbeds to improve the ground water level and prevent rainwater from flowing into the sea.

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