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Ajoy Mehta is new Maharashtra chief secy: Ex-BMC commissioner faces challenge of bailing state out of water crisis

Mumbai's former municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta on Monday took over as Maharashtra's new chief secretary succeeding UPS Madan. In his first assignment as chief secretary, Mehta attended meetings convened by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to review the drought situation in six districts of Maharashtra — Pune, Sangli, Satara, Amravati, Nagpur and Chandrapur.

And this is Mehta's biggest challenge now that his role has extended to the administration of the whole of Maharashtra — a state reeling under severe drought and water crisis for past few years. This year, the state government has already declared 151 out of 355 talukas as drought-hit. Meanwhile, the Centre has allocated Rs 4,714 crore for drought-relief measures, according to ANI.

Therefore, Mehta — a 1984-batch IAS officer — who did BTech from Banaras Hindu University and has previously served as the principal secretary of the environment department, has his task cut out for him. 

The current drought situation in Maharashtra is grimmer than faced by the state in 1972, as farmers in various districts have reportedly lost all their crop and are facing water shortage. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar alleged that 95 percent of the farmers have not received the benefit of the central government's crop insurance scheme.

Fadnavis had directed district collectors to immediately start work under the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) in drought-affected areas and submit compliance reports of this work. Reports say that the measures aren't enough to control the situation the state hadn't been adequately prepared for. 

 Ajoy Mehta is new Maharashtra chief secy: Ex-BMC commissioner faces challenge of bailing state out of water crisis

File image of Ajoy Mehta. Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

Fadnavis, while appealing to farmers to participate in water conservation, also directed the immediate approval of desilting of tanks and ponds under the 'Gaalmukta Dharan-Gaalyukta Shivar' (silt-free dams and silt-filled farms) scheme, PTI reported.

However, it is not the Marathwada region which is solely affected by the crisis anymore, ‘water-abundant’ western Maharashtra too is feeling the impact of drought. Rapid depletion of water stocks in the 22 reservoirs which are part of the Bhima River basin in western Maharashtra and cater to Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad belt's water supply, is a dangerous signal of the looming crisis.

At least five of these reservoirs including Dimbhe and Temghar have zero storage presently, while the total water stock in seven other reservoirs is less than 10 percent of their capacity, The Hindu reported. Pune, the report said, has barely 18 percent water stock available this year, compared to 38 percent during this season in 2018. And with water levels of the Pavana reservoir also reducing to 26 percent from 31 percent earlier, concerns have been raised on the sustainability of these resources.

The State Water Resources Department data on 3 May showed that 3,267 major, medium and minor dams across the have just 18.51 percent live storage compared to 29.95 percent on the same date in 2018. Nearly 4,774 water tankers have been deployed across the state compared to 937 the previous year, The Hindu Business Line noted in its report.

Even the groundwater table has plummeted sharply in several villages including those under the Beed district. According to Times Now, the situation has affected as many as 21,000 villages across the state where people are now being forced to depend on water tankers for everyday needs.

Moreover, many districts in the state, including the entire Marathwada region, are also staring at a severe rainfall deficit. Private weather forecasters such as Skymet have predicted a “below normal” monsoon this year. The state government has announced a few relief measures in anticipation of the same, but farmers are worried for fodder to feed their cattle, for which the state government is yet to do anything substantial. A few farmers groups also worry that, in such a situation, the soyabean crop primarily cultivated in Maharashtra is poised for a total collapse.

In fact, all major crops, including maize, cotton, citrus lemon, pulses and groundnuts will suffer due to poor rainfall and, an estimated 82 lakh farmers are set to be affected by the drought.

Focusing on natural water resources would also not yield much for the parched state as the seven lakes from where the capital city of Mumbai receives water — Bhatsa, Tulsi, Vihar, Middle Vaitarna, Modak Sagar , Tansa and Upper Vairtarna — currently hold 3.74 lakh million litres of water, a figure which was as high as  5.59 lakh million litres just last year (in 2018). According to The Times of India's report which quotes civic officials, the Bhatsa lake, which supplies maximum water to Mumbai, has only 26 percent of consumable water left.

Mehta, meanwhile, in an interview with DNA, had recalled that during his tenure between 1992 and 1995 as the Ahmednagar district collector he had extensively carried out drought mitigation work. And even as Mehta is the third chief secretary the state has seen in 13 months, citizens of the state are eagerly looking to him to deliver on the administrative promises and bail the state out of the large-looming agricultural and water crisis.

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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 16:42:21 IST