Indian city bans gatherings over water riot fears

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Authorities in western India have banned groups of people from gathering near water sources in a drought-ridden city following violent skirmishes between increasingly desperate residents, officials said on Monday (March 21).

Dnyaneshwar Chavan, the police chief of Latur, in Maharashtra state, said no more than five people were allowed at wells and public storage tanks at any one time over growing fears of water riots.

"There have been incidents of violence," Chavan told AFP.

Latur, about 400 kilometres east of Mumbai, lies deep in the heart of India's arid central belt and its half-a-million residents are reeling from years of below-par monsoon rains.

Latur is part of Maharashtra's drought-hit Marathwada region. Several media reports say thousands of people, mostly poor farmers, have left the area recently because of water scarcity.

Last year around 1,400 farmers committed suicide in the region over crop failure from a lack of water and an inability to meet loan payments.

And officials fear the worst this year as most of Marathwada's lakes and reservoirs lie empty months before the annual monsoon is expected to arrive.

"The reservoir has completely dried up. We are trying to get water from other sources to cater to the demand," local official Pandurang Pole told AFP.

He said water was only being supplied to households through main's taps once a month, and that some of the 200 water tankers sent to make up the shortfall had been looted.

There have been daily altercations at water-filling points, leading local officials to issue a ban on gatherings for two months, he added.