A quarter of Maharashtra’s villages – numbering around 11,500 – are likely to face water shortages by April 2019, according to data released by the state’s Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency. And 2,941 villages are already facing this deficit.

The Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency releases a seasonal water shortage outlook for Maharashtra every October. Villages where groundwater levels have fallen 3 metres below the average of the last five years and which also had more than 20% deficit rainfall in the monsoon are declared likely to be affected by water shortage.

Another 2,990 villages, where water levels have dropped between 1 metre and 2 metres, are likely to face shortages from January and by April, 5,556 more villages where groundwater levels have dropped by 1 metre will join the list. In all, by April, a quarter of the state’s villages are likely to be short of water.

This water shortage alert comes in the wake of Maharashtra and four other states – Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – declaring large parts of their areas as drought-affected.

The last time Maharashtra faced a drought was in 2015-2016. In that drought – which was widely reported to be the state’s most prolonged drought since 1972 – 10,615 villages had made it to the agency’s list. But the intensity of the shortage had been apparent very early on that season with more villages reported likely to be affected in October 2015 than in October this year.

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra had launched its much vaunted water conservation scheme Jalyukt Shivar, which means water-filled land. The scheme sought to bring all Central and state water conservation schemes under one umbrella with the aim of making Maharashtra drought-free by 2019. Instead, it has been riddled with corruption, as Scroll.in reported in 2016. The Opposition parties, including the Congress, have also questioned its implementation.

Deficit monsoon

This year, at least 11 states were affected by low rainfall during the monsoon, but only five have declared drought-affected areas so far. Although the India Meteorological Department had predicted a normal monsoon this year, the South West Monsoon period ended in September with a deficit of 9.4%.

The highest deficit was in the North East, with four states – Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura – affected. Large parts of East, Central and West India were also affected, including parts of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha.

However, states are moving slowly in declaring drought-affected areas, which sets the process for farmers to claim insurance and compensation for crop damage into motion. And given that the Lok Sabha polls are due in early 2019, this is likely to affect election sentiment.

In the last 30 days, Bihar has declared 206 blocks in 23 districts as affected by drought, Maharashtra 182 blocks in 31 districts, Gujarat 51 blocks in 11 districts, Andhra Pradesh 274 blocks in six districts, and Karnataka 201 blocks in 32 districts.

All maps by Anand Katakam.