Drought impact: Maharashtra resorts to drastic water cuts for industries, breweries

Water supply cuts expected to get more drastic in the next three-and-a-half months before the monsoon sets in


Nearly 35% of Maharashtra—roughly 15,000 villages—are in the grip of a severe drought. Photo: PTI
Nearly 35% of Maharashtra—roughly 15,000 villages—are in the grip of a severe drought. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: Barely a fortnight after Maharashtra boasted of receiving Rs.8 trillion in investment commitments at the Make in India summit, manufacturing units located in three major industrial regions in the state have started bearing the brunt of water shortages.

Manufacturers and industry associations have strongly protested Maharashtra government’s decision to cut down on water supply to industries in Thane-Belapur, Raigad- Taloja, and Aurangabad regions. These three industrial region account for more than 13,400 units of which a majority are small and medium enterprises that are worst hit by the water shortage.

The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), which operates these industrial estates, has resorted to water cuts after the water level in dams dropped to less than 50% to 6.5% of their installed capacity.

Industry associations and companies say this would adversely impact production, revenue generation for the state, and even jobs since industrial units in the more critical zones may have to scale down their operations.

A top MIDC official who requested anonymity said the water supply cuts would only get ‘more drastic’ in the next three-and-a-half months before the monsoon sets in.

Maharashtra minister for water resources Girish Mahajan said the government had no option but reorder its water allocation priorities in the wake of a severe drought.

“Faced with a drought situation the government needs to make judicious use of available water. Industry is important but people and cattle in the affected regions are more important. Industry will have to bear with the water cuts,” Mahajan said.

He pointed out that the average water levels in dams in Marathwada region had dropped to 6.5% of their capacity in February itself. “Marathwada experienced drought in 2015 also but in February last year the average water availability in dams was 27% as against 6.5% now. It may go down further in the next three months,” Mahajan said.

The minister conceded that a reduced water supply to industries could affect manufacturing. “Industry associations have pointed this out but the situation is critical for all the people,” Mahajan said.

Nearly 35% of Maharashtra—roughly 15,000 villages—are in the grip of a severe drought. Nearly 85 % of these villages are in Marathwada, North Maharashtra, and Khandesh regions. Water situation in Konkan, which comprises Mumbai, Thane-Belapur and Taloja industrial regions, is relatively better but civic authorities across these regions have already resorted to water cuts for all users including industry.

Atul Deulgaonkar, an environmentalist and social activist based in Latur in Marathwada, which is one of the most critically affected districts, said Latur residents last received tap water supply on 12 January.

“That tells you the severity of the situation. Successive droughts are turning Marathwada region into a desert,” Deulgaonkar said.

The water resources ministry has written to the divisional commissioners in Konkan and Aurangabad to revise water allocation, said an official in the ministry who requested anonymity. These two divisions comprise industrial districts of Thane-Belapur, Raigad-Taloja, and Aurangabad.

“Municipal bodies in these divisions which supply water to MIDC industrial estates have been asked to reduce supply to industries. By mid-February water supply to industries was shut for 60 hours per week but it may be extended to 90 hours by mid-March,” the official said.

The 60-hour-long water cut has forced industries to shut operations from Wednesday 6 p.m. to Saturday 6 a.m. Joint secretary of Thane-Belapur Industries Association (TBIA) Jayadevan confirmed this, saying export-oriented industries which have prior export commitments to meet and manufacturing units which must run continuous production processes to meet efficiency standards were the worst-hit.

“Old and leaking water supply pipelines on MIDC estates and illegal slums which directly draw water from them make the problem worse,” Jayadevan said.

The Thane-Belapur industrial belt has more than 3,200 industrial units of which nearly 600 are large and medium manufacturing plants. This industrial district has an annual turnover of Rs.7,000 crore and pays Rs.1,800 crore per annum to the government through various taxes. Industries here employ more than 100,000 people.

The Taloja industrial estate in Thane-Raigad districts has an annual turnover of Rs.60,000 crore and employs more than 120,000 people. The estate has around 4,000 industrial units of which nearly 1,000 are in Thane city.

“Officially water supply is supposed to be shut for 60 hours but MIDC and water supply department hardly follow this schedule. In practice the supply is shut for much longer than 60 hours and most industries resume operations late on Saturday,” said Taloja Industries Association’s executive secretary Eknath Sonawane.

The state has resorted to water cuts in Marathwada region too which has several industrial estates including two industrial parks being developed as nodes under the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).

The six industrial estates in Aurangabad district are known for their rich mixture of automobile, engineering, and bottling industries as also the breweries which include a few global brands like Carlsberg and SABMiller. The entire division has more than 6,200 industrial units.

In an emailed response to Mint questions, a spokesperson for SABMiller India, which has a brewery in Waluj industrial estate in Aurangabad, said the brewery was investing time and money towards improving and enhancing water usage efficiency.

“In Aurangabad, as in our other operations, we are adopting innovative technologies and implementing best practices to reduce, reuse and recycle the water. As a result of these stringent processes, we have been able to reduce almost 36% of our water usage from 2010 to 2016,” the spokesperson said.