Drought dominates address as Maharashtra Budget session begins

Facing heat from Opposition over the agrarian distress, Maharashtra government on Wednesday said that bringing solace to drought-hit farmers is of primary concern to it and revealed that it has already disbursed Rs 2,536 crore for their relief.

"The state is facing drought for the fourth successive year and nearly 15,750 villages are adversely affected in the current Kharif season," Governor C Vidyasagar Rao said in his address to the joint sitting of the state legislature on the commencement of the budget session, even as the opposition slammed the BJP-led Government over the issue.

"The Central Government has approved relief assistance of Rs 3,049 crore, which is the highest-ever central assistance given to Maharashtra," he said, adding till date the state government has disbursed Rs 2,536 crore to drought-affected farmers.

As soon as Rao reached the Vidhan Bhavan to deliver his address, the opposition Congress and NCP members were on their feet, attacking the government for "ignoring farmers' plight and favouring dance bar owners instead".

As he began the speech enumerating several development measures taken by the state government, opposition members sought to disrupt him, with the refrain "talk about farmers".

"We want loan waiver for farmers. Down with the government which has ignored farmers," they said. "We want a legislation banning dance bars."

The Governor said the government has decided to extend relief assistance to the people who suffered crop loss, house damage due to unseasonal rains and hailstorm in 2015. The Centre has revised the norms of relief assistance under State Disaster Relief Fund.

Accordingly, the state government has adopted the enhanced financial assistance norms with effect from April 1, 2015, he said. He also said that the government has decided to waive three months' interest on loans availed by farmers who lost their crop due to natural calamities during November-December 2014 and February-March 2015.

To help drought-hit farmers, 33 per cent of the current electricity bills have been waived. On the lines of 'Krishi Sanjeevani Scheme', the 'Paani Sanjeevani Scheme' has been started which will benefit 50,000 drinking water schemes of local bodies, Rao said.

Earlier, setting a new precedent, the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena accorded a Guard of Honour to the Governor as he arrived in the Vidhan Bhavan's forecourt for his joint address to both Houses of the Legislature.

As Rao arrived, he was greeted by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Assembly Speaker Haribhau Bagade, Council Chairman Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Girish Bapat, with a bouquet.

Later, a contingent of Mumbai Police gave him the Guard of Honour and police band played the national anthem. The Governor also said that rejuvenation of farming in drought-affected areas is the biggest challenge before the state. To conserve and harvest every drop of rain water and to utilise it judiciously for farming is the need of the hour.

He said the Shivaji Maharaj memorial off Mumbai coast will be completed by 2019. "I am happy to inform that all clearances have been obtained for constructing the national monument of revered Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. A project management consultant has been appointed for the purpose. The government intends to complete the work before 2019," Rao said.

The state government has already announced the construction of a memorial for Balasaheb Thackeray at Dadar in the heart of Mumbai, and action is being taken to set it up at the earliest, he said, adding land had been allotted at Aurangabad for a memorial of Gopinath Munde. He said the government is "serious about and sensitive to the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute".

"The government has appointed the Minister for Public Works Department and Co-operation as state coordinator to deal effectively with the problems faced by the Marathi-speaking people of Karnataka in disputed areas," he said.

Announcing a host of development projects, Rao said that the Belapur-Pendar Metro Project, having length of 11 km in New Mumbai, will be completed by July 2017.

To improve public transport system in urban areas, workso n Mumbai Metro Rail Line-3, and also on Nagpur and Pune Metro projects will commence soon, he said.

Out of the 118-km Metro Rail Project planned for next 3-4 years, the Dahisar to Dadabhai Naoroji Nagar route of 18.5 km, and the Dahisar (East) to Andheri (East) route of 16.5 km, with an estimated cost of Rs 12,000 crore, have been approved, he said.

"The government has entrusted the responsibility to CIDCO for the development of a Smart City NAINA, that consists of 30 towns around Navi Mumbai International Airport. This will focus on areas relating to education, medical, entertainment, logistic, commerce, science, industry, etc. The state government has notified 600 sq km area for the purpose," he said.

Rao said the state government has succeeded in improving the conviction rate in criminal cases from 36 per cent to 52 per cent over the past one year.

"Higher conviction rate will deter criminal and anti-social elements from indulging in unlawful activities," he said.

"Safety of women and children is an important issue. In Mumbai, more than 90 women police patrolling teams have been pressed into service," the Governor said.

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