Now, its drought politics

Nov 05, 2018, 08:19 IST | Dharmendra Jore

The opposition in Maharashtra did not have any hard-hitting issues at hand, but now it has one that directly appeals to the masses - water supply

Now, its drought politics

Dharmendra Jore'Any party that takes credit for the rain must not be surprised if its opponents blame it for the drought' - Dwight Morrow. Faced with the stark reality of drought and innumerable challenges in managing the natural calamity in an election year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should realise the seriousness of the former American politician's famous quote.

This year's drought is difficult and different from previous ones, because it is spread across the state's 26 districts. The drought we faced previously was restricted to chronically-hit pockets in Marathwada and western Maharashtra. 2013's drought had placed the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in a tricky situation because of allegations of scams and mismanagement. Incumbent CM Devendra Fadnavis should be subjected to similar scrutiny if anything goes wrong in mitigating the drought situation.

The opposition in Maharashtra did not have any hard-hitting issues at hand, but now it has one that directly appeals to the masses. It isn't the rural population alone that bears the brunt, but a severe drought also impacts the urban population which, with all its liquidity, may buy anything except an uninterrupted tap water supply when the resources dry up. Remember scarcity-hit Latur where the water trains were taken four years ago? Remember water cuts in Mumbai?

The declaration of drought came on a day the Fadnavis government completed four years. This time round, villages and semi-urban areas in the 26 districts should see their problems escalating after winter, because water levels are drying up in October-November itself. The situation in the first half of next year is likely to be grave. The drought should be one of the poll planks in the hinterland, where the BJP and Fadnavis will be under immense pressure to meet demands.

Worse than ever?
A friend from Marathwada said it is so dry out there that very soon the trees will start bribing the dogs. Deficient rainfall has affected the dam storage and local capacity created under state's flagship Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan. Crops stand damaged, ground water index is at its lowest and cattle fodder has vanished; thus affecting the rural economy badly. Migration to cities has started. This Diwali will be devoid of happiness for crores of families.

Almost half of all tehsils in Maharashtra are drought affected - 112 tehsils face severe drought conditions, which means more than 60% of the local crops have been damaged, while the remaining 39 tehsils face moderate drought, where crop damage is more than 33.5%.

Maharashtra is the country's biggest sugar and pulses producer and second biggest producer of cotton and soybean. The state is the country's biggest economy, accounting for more than a tenth of India's GDP. During the 2012-13 drought, it was said the situation was more severe than 1972's famine. The Congress-NCP, which was in power then, says the current condition is no different.

To mitigate the drought, some measures such as exemptions in land revenue, a 33.5% concession on electricity bills of agriculture pumps, waiving exam fees of school and college students would be taken up promptly. Water tanker supply will increased to affected areas and animal shelters will be built. However, it is not known yet if the state would come up with another crop loan waiver scheme, even as the one declared last year is still being implemented. The sops should largely depend on financial assistance from the Modi government, which goes to polls in 2019. The Modi cabinet is expected to be charitable towards the state that elects 48 MPs, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh.

Ugly water wars
Constitutionally, no region and no person or group of persons can claim ownership of water resources. Maharashtra's irrigation is heavily loaded in favour of specific regions. Traditionally, less influential regions were deprived of planning and capital investment for water storage facilities. Even the legal remedy is not heeded by people who have enough water for themselves, but won't release it for needy people downstream.

Politicians in Ahmednagar and Nashik districts and Marathwada play the game every time the need arises. Fast drying up, the Jayakwadi reservoir near Aurangabad needed water from the dams in Nashik and Ahmednagar, but all-party politicians upstream created a furore and approached the court to stall the release of water. The court dismissed the plea. And yet the dams mismanaged the outflow, wasting a much-needed commodity. It smacked of ulterior selfish motives that shouldn't go unnoticed by the drought managers in Mantralaya.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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