Drought fears for Maharashtra, Centre promises special measures for Vidarbha

A delegation of BJP leaders from Maharashtra met the union agriculture minister yesterday. Maharashtra's woes are compounded by poor irrigation.

FP Politics July 02, 2014 19:07:14 IST
Drought fears for Maharashtra, Centre promises special measures for Vidarbha

Amid a delayed monsoon and reports of El Nino effects strengthening, when a delegation of Maharashtra leaders led by Maharashtra BJP chief Devendra Phadnavis met Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh in New Delhi, they presented the picture of an agragrian community in deep distress. This is now the third consecutive year of severe water crisis in parts of Maharashtra. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), until th last week of June, the Vidarbha region had received 55 percent less than normal rains, the arid Marathwada saw 75 percent less than normal rains while Central Maharashtra had received 61 percent less than normal rains.

Drought fears for Maharashtra Centre promises special measures for Vidarbha

Representational image. AFP

Singh told reporters after the meeting with Maharashtra BJP leaders that the Union government would draw up a contingency plan for Vidarbha, ground zero of a spate of farmer suicides over the past years. We will also think of other possible measures to protect the farmers so that they do not commit suicide," Singh said, according to a report in Business Standard.

The Union government has acknowledged that parts of western Maharashtra including large parts of Maharashtra will be affected by drought-like circumstances.

"Monsoon is delayed. Western India is expected to be worst affected and drought-like situation might prevail in some pockets," Radha Mohan Singh said.

A report in The Times of India said area under cultivation for the kharif harvest had drastically declined on account of non-arrival of monsoon. "The area under kharif crops last week decreased to 131.52 lakh hectares from 200.96 lakh hectares as compared to last year. Some states have issued specific advisories to farmers to delay sowing and not tap ground water just yet," the report said.

In Maharashtra, the delayed monsoon compounds woes caused by, on the one hand, consecutive years of water crisis and, on the other, an uneven water distribution and management system exacerbated by the abysmal pace of irrigation project.

The latest Economic Survey report of the state says the total irrigated cultivable land under the jurisdiction of the state's water resources department has actually decreased in the state in 2012-13. The slide is on account of the severe drought that led to water being diverted for drinking purposes.

Irrigated area decreased from 32.52 lakh hectares in 2011-12 to 24.48 lakh hectares in 2012-13. In the preceding year, the number had increased from 29.55 lakh hectare in 2010-11 to 32.52 lakh hectares.

The Economic Survey report for the previous year had led to a furore with its data suggesting that area brought under irrigation had increased by just 0.1 percent in the last decade despite thousands of crores spent on dam projects. That opened the floodgates for an "irrigation white paper" announced by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, which went on to claim that irrigation potential had increased by 5.7 percent, not 0.1 percent.

For now, the Union agriculture minister has promised, apart from special measures for Maharashtra, establishment of a Central Agricultural University in Maharashtra, a second Krishi Vigyan Kendra in bigger districts and opening of ICAR institutes on diary farming, soil and water testing, integrated pest management and horticulture.

A report in The Hindu pointed out that already, the early deficiency in monsoon has severely impacted kharif sowing for paddy and cotton. Farmers could fall back upon contingency plans and grow alternative crops and fodder, the report said.

"Everybody is keeping their fingers crossed for the India Meteorological Department’s forecast of monsoon revival on July 6 to come true," it said.

Average storage in 85 major reservoirs monitored by the Central Water Commission is better than at this time last year, but among the states where the situation will be closely watched are Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tripura, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Kerala.

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