Maharashtra government may soon declare a drought in the state

Sep 07, 2015, 06:10 IST | Varun Singh

Having received just a third of the average rain, many Marathwada farmers are unable to sow the Rabi crop for the first time in 100 years, CM Devendra Fadnavis is planning to declare a drought in Maharashtra

It should come as no surprise that the government is now planning to declare a drought in the state with the monsoon falling short across all regions, especially in Marathwada. For the first time in nearly 100 years, many farmers there have not even been able to sow the Rabi (winter) crop, thanks to the region’s worst dry spell in the period. Marathwada has received just a third of the average rainfall until this part of the year.

Also read: Maharashtra govt making every effort to help drought-hit farmers, says CM Devendra Fadnavis

Devendra Fadnavis
leaving a sour taste: Fadnavis inspects damaged sugarcane crop at Malikpeth in Mohol Taluka of Solapur yesterday. He is on a tour of drought-hit areas in the state

Continuing his tour in drought-hit Marathwada, CM Devendra Fadnavis yesterday announced a series of measures to help farmers (see box).

Also read: Maharashtra FM rules out levying new taxes for drought-hit Marathwada

Maharashtra has seen poor rainfall this year, having received just over 50 per cent of the average amount of rain that is usually witnessed until this time of the year. Marathwada, however, has the worst figures, with just 240 mm rainfall so far. On average, the region, which falls under the Aurangabad division, gets about 719 mm by the first week of September. This figure usually rises to 800 mm by the end of monsoon.

CM talks to farmers in Ahmednagar about the water crisis. He has been touring drought-hit areas in the state and, yesterday, announced measures to help farmers there. Pic/PTI
CM talks to farmers in Ahmednagar about the water crisis. He has been touring drought-hit areas in the state and, yesterday, announced measures to help farmers there. Pic/PTI

Due to a severe lack of water, farmers have not even been able to sow Rabi (winter) crops in four to five districts. The worst affected district is Latur, followed by Parbhani, Osmananabad, Jalna, Beed, and Aurangabad districts.

In official records, the Marathwada region falls under the Aurangabad division.

“Average rain in the Marathwada region has been 240 mm this monsoon. When we spoke to the elders in the villages, they said this was the first time in the last 100 years that sowing hasn’t taken place. Marathwada has been suffering from drought for the last four years, but this is the worst year,” said Atul Deulgaonkar, an expert from Marathwada, who has authored books on water and agriculture.

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Marathwada has been suffering from water scarcity since 2012, because of which the dams are dry as well. However, experts have said that this year has been particularly hard on farmers, as the dry spell had first affected the crops sown in June (Kharif). Some farmers tried re-sowing, but the rains ditched them yet again. With the dry spell continuing, there are fears that even those who have managed to sow the Rabi crop will not be able to save it. The impact is already being witnessed in the mass migration of farmers to cities like Pune and Hyderabad, where they find work as construction labourers.

According to Umakant Dangat, Aurganabad divisional commissioner, this is an unprecedented crisis. “We are going through a very bad phase — it is the worst situation in the history of this region. We have only seven per cent water left in the dams. The crop yield (kharif) has dropped to about 20 to 25 per cent this year, and that too in the Nanded and Hingoli districts, which still have better irrigation facilities. We are in the process of declaring drought in these areas,” he told mid-day, adding that the government is already dependent on water tankers.

In deep water
The crisis is compounded by the presence of 70 sugar factories in the region. Sugarcane farming and processing both utilise massive amounts of water, and experts said this is the reason other crops are bei-ng deprived of water. Even the water level has fallen to nearly 1,200 feet below ground (if it drops below 1,000 feet, it is considered a groundwater crisis).

"Almost all the groundwater is used for sugarcane factories. The dams are dry and whatever water remains will be used for drinking, not for irrigation. Now the government has come down hard on deep bore wells, but it’s too late,” said Pradeep Purandare, renowned water expert, warning that crops would continue to suffer until something was done about the sugarcane factories in the area.

Food security hit
Apart from poor rainfall and dry dams that affect the Kharif crop in October, Marathwada has also been facing hailstorms in February, which spoils Rabi crops as well. “In other words, this is a disaster. We are totally dependent on Ahmednagar for water. We have no river, no groundwater, and, at 1.5%, barely any forest cover,” said Deulgaonkar, adding that this had far-reaching consequences such as a national food crisis.

"In the last two years, the food import budget has gone up from Rs 1.1 lakh crore to Rs 2.5 lakh crore. As long as we are importing food, we cannot be a food-secure country,” Deulgaonkar added.

CMO tweets
Yesterday, the chief minister’s office tweeted measures to help drought-hit farmers (re-tweeted by CM Fadnavis):
>> Detailed planning done for water distribution in villages. State to use Railway wagons for water transportation: CM
>> State has decided to help students from farmer families by taking care of their fees even if it is a professional course: CM
>> State is doing every possible thing for drought hit districts; we have planned employment for farm labours in all districts: CM

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