Home >Politics >Policy >Water train and beyond—how Latur is tackling drought

Latur, Maharashtra: In the parched town of Latur in Maharashtra, the water train is clearly a star. Since it made its first 342-km-journey from Miraj in south Maharashtra to Latur in the south-east on 11 April, the train, aptly named Jaldoot, has captured the public imagination.

When it pulled into Latur on its maiden run, people flocked to the railway station to see the train ferrying water to the city, which is battling a severe water crisis after two consecutive years of drought. It has made seven more trips since then, bringing a total of 4 million litres of potable water to Latur.

Latur, with a population of about half a million, is one of the eight districts in the Marathwada region facing severe drought.

The situation was thought to be so serious that in March, the state government imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to prevent fights over drinking water, prohibiting more than five people from gathering around water tankers.

Jaldoot, commissioned by the railway ministry in collaboration with the Maharashtra government, was one of the key measures to alleviate the situation, transporting half a million litres of water on each of its trips from Miraj in Sangli district. Miraj gets its water from the Warna dam, downstream of river Krishna. The dam has a storage capacity of 34 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) and currently has around 14 tmcft left. The railway ministry and the Maharashtra government zeroed in on Miraj because it has surplus water and offers the logistical convenience too for this difficult operation.

Indian Railways and local government authorities in Latur have made arrangements to run a 50-wagon service soon, with each wagon carrying at least 50,000 litres. A 25-wagon service will run on Tuesday and Wednesday, a Marathi news channel reported on Monday.

On 15 April, when the Jaldoot made its third trip, credit-claiming politicians, selfie-taking onlookers, and busy-looking government officials were at hand to greet the train.

V.L. Ghatkari, the driver of the train, is aware of the attention Jaldoot gets. “People come to see because they have not seen this spectacle before. I have never driven a water train before," he says.

About 4 km from the railway station in the Hanumantwadi neighbourhood, Anuradha Tandle is waiting for a water tanker to arrive and bring her family of five a maximum of 200 litres of water. She has not seen the train herself nor does she plan to, but she knows that she will get her very modest fill of 200 litres, thanks to the water train.

“The train has helped because this water will be distributed by the municipality free of cost. In the last 12 days, we have bought 1,000 litres of water twice for 400 from private tanker operators," Tandle says.

Along with her neighbours, she has neatly lined up containers to fill with the water that the tanker would bring from the Latur municipality’s filtering station, where the supply from the water train will be filtered.

Tanker driver Dnyaneshwar Chavan fills 6,000 litres from the filtering station and takes it to Hanumantwadi for distribution. “Rules say that we cannot give more than 200 litres per family. There are arguments or minor fights at some places but, by and large, people accept this rule," Chavan says.

Considering Latur’s population of 500,000, each water train journey has theoretically brought one litre of water to every Latur resident. In normal times Latur’s water demand is 60 million litres per day, which works out to around 100 litres per day per person.

Has the water train been a help? Sunil Gaikwad, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) member of Parliament from Latur, who was present on 15 April when the train arrived, says it has helped, but it is not a long-term solution to the crisis.

Congress state legislator from Latur Amit Deshmukh says the water train is a good gesture and a welcome step. “But I hope they don’t deviate from the main work, which is investing in long-term measures to address the root cause of the crisis which is lack of scientific use and management of water," Deshmukh says.

Work is indeed under way to help the town solve its chronic water shortage once and for all. Prominent citizens, representatives from industry and trade, and social organizations have come together to launch a campaign “Jalyukta Latur", which means “Water-sufficient Latur".

The organizations have formed a public trust to implement this campaign to widen and deepen the Manjira river, which used to be one of the major sources of water supply to Latur several years ago but has run dry, by end of May this year.

The work will cost 7.5 crore, which the organizing committee of the campaign is raising entirely from the people.

“We have managed to raise about 3 crore so far from people, industries, traders and social organizations," says Shivdas Mitkari of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Jankalyan Samiti, part of the campaign.

The Indian Medical Association’s Latur chapter has contributed 51 lakh. The Jankalyan Samiti itself has contributed a first instalment of 11 lakh.

“This is the real long-term work that we are doing. We are deepening the river by 3 metres and widening it by 80 metres over the riverbed length of 18 km," says Latur resident and one of the trustees of Jalyukt Latur Trust, B.B. Thombare, also chairman and managing director of private sugar mill Natural Sugar and Allied Industries Ltd in Osmanabad district.

“We will complete this work by end of May so that the first rains in June will fill up the river and re-activate the groundwater channels around the river," he said.

Thombare terms measures like the water train “a temporary treatment of a deeper problem for political advantage".

“It is at best a temporary measure. What about permanent solutions? Even if it rains 100 millimeters in the first showers in June, the 18-km-long riverbed will collect at least 18 million cubic metres of potable water, which in per capita terms means each Latur resident will get 100 litres per day for one year. I am surprised and appalled that the government has not invested one rupee in this effort and is instead making a shameful display of a sorry situation where water is being supplied through a train," Thombare says.

Makarand Jadhav, secretary of the trust Jalyukt Latur Trust and office-bearer of the Art of Living Foundation, which has carried out revival of rivers in 18 villages in Marathwada, says people contributed to long-term measures because they saw the intent to solve the problem.

“In Renapur tehsil, for example, people contributed 1.23 crore for the river rejuvenation work. We will raise each paisa of this campaign from people and complete the work in time," Jadhav says.

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