Latur is in the news for stories on water scarcity. An initiative by various organisations and political leaders cutting across party lines along with RSS workers to desilt 18-km long Manjara River is a story of turnaround with collective efforts
At the time when about 10 states of the country are reeling under severe drought and the government agencies are struggling hard to ensure drinking water, the people in Latur city of Maharasthra have collectively initiated to resolve the water crisis permanently. By collecting funds they have started desilting Manjara River, the lifeline of the city. They have collected Rs five crore for the project, which is estimated to cost around Rs 7.58 lakh. Interestingly, the government agencies had estimated Rs 80 crore, about ten times more, for this work. One more interesting fact is that majority of the social, cultural, religious, educational, market organisations as well as the political leaders belonging to different political parties including the Congress and Samajwadis have joined hands with the RSS swayamsevaks. Veteran RSS leader and founder of Latur Vivekanand Hospital Dr Ashok Rao Kukade was unanimously appointed chairman of the Samiti to execute the desilting project. Shri Makarand Jadhav of Art of Living Foundation is secretary of the Samiti.
A total of 12 districts of Maharashtra are facing the severest kind of drought. 20,000 villages have been declared drought affected. 10,000 of them are in Marathwada region alone. Apart from it, one district of Vidarbha and four districts of Western Maharashtra are also severely affected. The Southern Marathwada region records very low rain i.e. below 50% of the average rainfall. But for the last three years, it has been recording the lowest rainfall i.e. below 40% of the usual rainfall. Injudicious use of water by local people and also the farmers made the problem more complex. “Now the people are worried about the crop pattern that they have been following for a long time. They will have to rethink whether to grow sugarcane or not as it requires more water. The Kharif crop recorded hardly 40 per cent yield. The condition of Rabi crop too is highly pathetic as it could not be even sowed in majority of the areas due to no rainfall. Even in the areas where it was somehow sowed, the yield is hardly 30 per cent this time. As a result there is no fodder for the cattle,” says Shri Arun Danke, Sah Karyavah of RSS Jankalyan Samiti Maharashtra, which is actively involved in the fight against drought in Latur and Marathwada region.
According to reports, Latur, Beed and Usmanabad districts in Southern Marathwada are severely affected. Both the barrages and the only dam have totally dried becoming play ground for children. All water bodies including the rivers and ponds have dried. Drinking water is somehow being arranged from other areas. It is sure that nobody will die in want of water, but it is also equally sure that nobody gets it easily. Not only the government, but the people too are struggling hard for every drop of water.
The population of Latur is about five lakh. Out of it, about one lakh —around 50,000 labourers and 50,000 students–have migrated due to water scarcity. Latur is an education hub. The Collector has declared that no class or exam will be conducted between March 15 and June 15. The municipal corporation is somehow struggling to ensure 200 liters of water to every family per week. One can imagine what a family will do in 200 liters water in a week. Apart from drinking, they also need water for bathing and washing clothes. “There is huge publicity that water is being transported through trains. But the fact is that those efforts are not going to resolve the problem. Though, we sincerely thank the Railways Minister for this help. It needs some other efforts also,” adds Shri Danke.
Keeping in view all these facts, the RSS Jankalyan Samiti, the Sewa Wing of RSS in Maharashtra, has started work in all the drought affected districts. They have planned to start at least two projects for water conservation in each district. “The cost of each project has been estimated to be between Rs 15 to 30 lakh. There are also efforts to arrange fodder for the cattle. Now six fodder banks have already been started in Latur, Beed and Usmanabad districts. Six more are to be started as the funds are arranged,” says Shri Danke.
The biggest project in the form of Public Initiative, which has caught the attention of people all over the country is desilting of the Manjara River in Latur. It is about 10 km away from the city. There are two barrages on it—Nagjheri and Sai—to store water. Separate pipelines have been laid to supply water to Latur. There is a major irrigation dam on the same river about 40 km away from Latur. A pipeline also comes from that dam for drinking water. Unfortunately, now all these three sources have fully dried.
The only permanent solution is revival of the Manjara River so that both the barrages and the dam can store sufficient water. “Now we are desilting the River bad 3 meter deep, 80 meter wide and 18 km long. If this happens, the river will be able to store sufficient water. The people of the city have decided to do it collectively. Good thing is that people cutting across political lines have come forward to resolve this problem. An 11 member Samiti, Sarvajanik Jalyukta Latur Vyavasthapan Samiti, has been formed involving people from all sections,” says Shri Danke.
Prominent among those who are part of the Samiti include Shri Tryambakdas Zanvar, who has been very close to former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh and is former Congress district president, veteran Samajwadi leader Shri Manohar Gomare, private sugar factory owner and renowned personality of cooperative sector Shri BB Thombre, etc.
The work began on Varsh Pratipada day i.e. April 8. Following call from the Samiti for contribution, on first day itself Rs two crore were announced by various people as contribution. “Till now the contribution of more than Rs five crore has been declared. About 50 per cent of that amount has been received by the Samiti,” points out Shri Danke.
Seeing the active public initiative the local Collector and also the State government have extended full support. They have deputed three officers and some pokland machines. “We have come to know that some amount has been approved by Chief Minister Shri Devendra Fadanvis, but the Samiti has decided not to take any government help for this project. All educational institutions, market associations, medical association, Bar Council, etc have come forward with generous support. Many people come to our office with financial help everyday,” Shri Danke adds.
At the moment 27 pokland machines and 40 Hyvas are working on the site. “We need more Hyva machines to transport the silt. Normally, there should be at least five Hyvas with a Pokland machine, but we have only 1.5 Hyva per pokland. For it, we have requested the Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, who has assured full support,” adds Shri Danke.
Till now Chief Secretary of Maharasthra Swadhin Kshatriya, Minister Pankaja Munde, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Devgiri Prant Sanghachalak Dada Pawar, Paschim Kshetra Sah Kshetra Pracharak Shri Vijayrao Puranik, RSS Akhil Bharatiya Sewa Pramukh Shri Suhasrao Hiremath, RSS Jankalyan Samiti Maharashtra organising secretary Shri Sharad Khadilkar and Jalpurush Rajendra Singh have visited the site and appreciated the efforts of the people. Till now about five km long river has been desilted. The entire work has to be finished within next 40 to 50 days i.e. before the start of the monsoon.
Film star Shri Reteish Deshmukh, son of former Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh who belongs to Latur, has contributed Rs 25 lakh for the project. He also agreed to be the brand ambassador of the initiative. His elder brother Shri Amit Deshmukh, who is also a MLA, also announced Rs 75 lakh for it. Despite being a Congress leader he praised the RSS leader Dr Ashokrao Kukade for his honesty, dedication and commitment to the task despite growing age.
The collective endeavour by the people of Latur for resolving their water problem has set a good precedent, which may act as a trendsetter for the entire country.