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Maharashtra’s internal water wars: Beer breweries versus sugar factories

If breweries are dependent on large quantities of water, so are cane growers because sugar is a water-intensive industry and often draws 80% or more of the water resources, leaving very little to others in their own region

mumbai Updated: Oct 30, 2018 23:53 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra water crisis,Maharashtra drought,Maharashtra beer
It turns out that while Marathwada’s breweries might be playing the administration, in western Maharashtra it is not the ordinary people wanting to deny others access to water but the sugar factories who are jostling hard with beer manufacturers to access the limited water..(Getty Images)

Many years ago when Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were being governed by different political dispensations and a third led the Centre, a bitter fight had erupted between all, over the distribution of the water from the Krishna river.

The Congress-NCP was ruling Maharashtra, the Telugu Desam Party was governing Andhra Pradesh and it was part of the NDA coalition at the Centre.

I recall RR Patil, then the rural development minister, resisting the Centre’s directive to share more water with the neighbouring state. “Hum ek boond aur paani nahin denge unko,” he had thundered. The Krishna river flowed downstream and Patil threatened to dam the waters upstream. Because the two dispensations were hostile to each other the resistance was understandable. I remember then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had stepped in to resolve the issue and the talk of linking rivers has been part of the Indian political discourse ever since, though with little results to show.

The concerns of both states sharing the Krishna waters was the same — Maharashtra feared if they allowed Andhra to draw more, there would be drinking water issues in the state. Moreover, farmlands would run dry if they conceded more than their fair share to the neighbouring state. Andhra was afraid the same would happen to them if they did not. Finally, the issue was resolved through negotiations and hard bargaining. Andhra got more water but not in the proportion it wanted, Maharashtra was unable to hold its intransigence on its own usage and had to concede more than just a drop to the neighbouring state.

Now, however, I am surprised to note that the water wars have become internecine and two regions of the state, barely out of the monsoon, are already at loggerheads with each other. Western Maharashtra, particularly Nashik and Ahmednagar districts, has always been in conflict with Marathwada over the supply of the Godavari waters from its multiple dams to the Jayakwadi dam in Marathwada. Monsoon has been scanty this year and neither are the dams full or overflowing as they were the past couple of years nor have the waters stretched to irrigating even the rabi crops this season.

The political one-upmanship and skullduggery have already begun. The administration of Nashik district decided to allow the Godavari waters to flow through to Jayakwadi but then the ruling party was faced with allegations by the opposition that they have perpetrated an injustice on the people of the district. Some of the comments were dramatic and over the top, like raising the imagery of parched bodies scattered around the district with the ruling dispensation worried about only the people of Marathwada.

That prompted local politicians from the BJP to accuse the administration of playing to beer manufacturers and other breweries in Marathwada when the people did not really need that much water to drink or irrigate their fields.

Given that both Marathwada and western Maharashtra are part of the same state, why are people in Nashik and Ahmednagar seemingly needier than the drier regions of the state? It turns out that while Marathwada’s breweries might be playing the administration, in western Maharashtra it is not the ordinary people wanting to deny others access to water but the sugar factories who are jostling hard with beer manufacturers to access the limited water.

If breweries are dependent on large quantities of water, so are cane growers because sugar is a water-intensive industry and often draws 80% or more of the water resources, leaving very little to others in their own region – like, for example, vineyards whose grapes are internationally famous and much sought after. However, this season they too are worried about the quality of their crop given the scanty rains and the fact that they are not as organised as sugar co-operatives who have more political clout than anyone else in the state.

Years ago when Shankarrao Chavan was chief minister, he had limited the water supply to cane growers for eight months in a year. Other farmers have a right to the remaining four, he had said but that was quietly reversed by Sharad Pawar, the doyen of sugar barons when he followed Chavan to the chief minister’s office. Now the Supreme Court, hearing several petitions on this core issue, will decide (on October 31) who gets how much water in both the lean and flush seasons. Will it be beer breweries or sugar co-operatives? Or will the ordinary farmer and common man of both regions be held more important?

First Published: Oct 30, 2018 23:53 IST