Drought-affected Latur city will start getting 25 lakh litres of water from Wednesday, as the Central Railway has started operating a 50-wagon water train to the region.
Latur is one of the worst-hit cities in the drought-affected Marathwada region.
The train, called Jal Doot, reached Latur from Miraj Junction on Wednesday morning. It will carry 25 lakh litres of water in a single trip.
The Railways have deployed two 50-wagon trains to supply water to Latur. Before reaching Miraj, the trains were sent to Kota in Rajasthan for cleaning.
In the absence of infrastructure to load water in 50 wagons at Miraj and offload it at Latur, the authorities were earlier operating 10-wagon trains between the two cities. This is the first time the Railways are operating a 50-wagon water train.
Sources said the authorities had planned to flag off the 50-wagon train from Miraj at 4.30pm, but later decided to delay its departure till 8pm. It takes approximately 10 hours to load the 50 wagons with water.
Insufficient space to park the 50-coach train has forced the authorities to load only 25 wagons at a time.
Railways minister Suresh Prabhu also tweeted about a 50-coach water train being put into operation for the first time. A senior official said the Railways have operated nine 10-wagon water trains to the region, supplying 45 lakh litres of water, since April 12.
The water reserves in Marathwada dams have gone down to 3%, and of the 11 major dams in the region, seven have zero live water storage. According to an official of the Maharashtra irrigation department, dams across the state have only 19% water left – compared to 32% this time last year.
Officials involved in relief work fear that the situation will only get worse as the summer advances.
Data compiled by the relief and rehabilitation department showed that as many as 4,356 tankers of drinking water were sent to drought-hit regions in Maharashtra until mid-April. Almost half of them – 2,908 – were meant for 2,306 villages in the Marathwada region.
Describing the enormity of the situation, Aurangabad divisional commissioner Umakant Dangat said: “Most of the sources of water in the region have dried up. Also, owing to the soaring temperature, water is evaporating at a faster pace.”
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government on Tuesday banned digging of borewells below 200 feet to check further depletion of ground water. Water supply and sanitation minister Babanrao Lonikar said violators will be punished with fines and even imprisonment.
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 the Marathwada region, which has seen three deficient monsoons in a row.
The opposition has charged the state government with remaining insensitive to the issue, especially after minister Pankaja Munde took selfies next to canals during her visit to drought-hit Latur district on Sunday.