Mumbai: With only 3% water left in dams of drought-hit Marathwada region, the severity of the water crunch in Maharashtra has deepened, prompting the state government to ban digging of borewells below 200 feet to check further depletion of ground water.

The decision came close on the heels of cut in water supply to industrial units including breweries in the severely affected Aurangabad district. Water supply and sanitation minister Babanrao Lonikar said any violation of the decision on borewells will invite action under the ‘Maharashtra Groundwater Development and Management Act’ where violators may face fine or even imprisonment.

“The provisions of the act concerned has to be implemented strictly due to the severe drought conditions prevalent and the depletion of water stock. We have spoken to all senior officials and decided to ban the digging of borewells below 200 feet," Lonikar told reporters in Mumbai.

He said that with the amount of water being drawn out from the ground, it is imperative to control the digging of borewells, which will eventually help in averting drought-related problems. “While the Act will be implemented strictly, we require participation of the people. Everyone needs to come forward and help us save ground water," he said.

According to an official of the Maharashtra Irrigation department, dams across the state have only 19% water left compared to 32% at this time last year.

In Marathwada, eight of the region’s 11 major dams are at dead storage level, which means water from the reservoirs cannot flow out but has to be lifted. “It is down to only three percent," the official said.

This is a drastic decline in water storage as at this time last year, water level in Marathwada’s dams was much higher at 11%, Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner Umakant Dangat told PTI on Tuesday.

“We will also use the groundwater stock and as the IMD forecast is good, we hope that we will be able to carry on till the monsoon arrives," he said. “We have already cut water supply to (the) industry. The collectors and divisional commissioners have been instructed that use of water for drinking is the top priority," Maharashtra water resources minister Girish Mahajan said.

As many as 2,745 water tankers are being used in the parched region compared to 939 at this time last year. Lonikar said 4,356 tankers are currently being supplied by the state government, out of which, 52 are for Konkan, 831 for Nashik, 303 for Pune, 3,032 for Aurangabad, 131 for Amravati and 7 tankers for Nagpur divisions.

“The government has sanctioned Rs750 crore for water distribution, out of which Rs500 crore has already been provided to district collectors. This money will be used for 17 different works like providing water tankers, changing of old pipelines, changing of burnt pumps, fixing of leakages in water tanks etc," he said.

The worst-affected Latur in Marathwada has been getting supply by a special “water train" filled at Miraj in western Maharashtra. The Aurangabad Collector has already announced a 20% water cut to local breweries and a 10% overall cut to local industry.

This is the fourth year of drought in Marathwada in the past five years. Each of its 8,522 villages have been affected for two consecutive years.