Maharashtra drought plan focusses heavily on compensating farmers, but jobless farm labourers have to fend for themselves
There's an urgent need for the state government to take employment schemes like MGNREGA to drought-affected areas soon to prevent mass migration of farm labourers to urban areas
The Maharashtra government recently declared drought in 151 talukas and 250 revenue circles in the state. According to reports, a total of 76,367 hectares of land belonging to 83 lakh farmers (more than 60 percent of farmers in the state) have been hit by drought this year. Besides them, farm labourers, who account for more than half of the rural population involved in agriculture, are out of work and staring at an uncertain future in the days to come.
In October, after making one of the first announcements of drought in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said that his government will take several efforts to assist the affected farmers, including providing concessions in land revenue, irrigation pumps, educational fees, continuous power supply and also ensure availability of tankers for drinking water.
Fadnavis also said that a Central government team would visit the regions identified as drought-hit soon. A team of four Central Government officials finally arrived in Maharashtra, after over a month of the announcement, on Wednesday. They along with eight state officials are to visit the drought-hit areas in Marathwada, north Maharashtra, and western Maharashtra over the next three days and assess the drought situation in Maharashtra, and make a decision on the state government's demand for Rs 7,522 crore relief package from the Centre through the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF).
Better late than never, but would a relief package be sufficient and the solution to Maharashtra's drought?
According to the DNA report, if the package gets approved, the government intends to spend Rs 500 crore for cattle fodder, Rs 300 crores for providing water tankers and the remaining Rs 6,722 crore will be used to compensate farmers who have lost their standing crop due to the drought.
So, what's the problem? The government's plan is focussed heavily on compensation and appears to ignore the mass unemployment that the drought has brought in the affected areas in the state. Based on reports, there seems to be no arrangement to support farm labourers, who account for more than half of the rural population, involved in agriculture.
With the drought affecting both the Kharif and Rabi crops, shortage of fodder is an impending situation. According to a report, Maharashtra will need 55.9 lakh tonnes of fodder till June to support the livestock. It claims that the state is planning to launch two schemes to meet the need for fodder in the state.
The state is already offering maize seeds at a subsidy rate to farmers having little water to grow fodder. There's also a plan to start fodder camps around dams where the land is wet. Based on Animal Husbandry Department estimates, over 600 fodder camps are needed in the drought-affected regions.
There's a downside though: a fodder camp would require a person in the family to stay with the farm, thus further reducing the family's earning.
Due to poor sowing of Rabi crops, farm labourers in the state are struggling due to lack of employment opportunities. Already, an Indian Express report pointed out, that distress migration of agricultural labourers has started from the drought-affected areas in the state.
In November, The Telegraph had reported migration of farm labourers from Latur district of Marathwada and Osmanabad districts to cities for temporary jobs like working in firecracker factories. But with Diwali over, those jobs are likely to have dried up as well.
Fodder schemes have worked in the past, and they are likely to succeed despite criticism, and compensation will benefit the affected farmers, but there's an urgent need for the state government to take employment schemes like MGNREGA to drought-affected areas soon to prevent mass migration of farm labourers to urban areas. According to reports, more than half of the rural population working in the agriculture sector are agricultural labourers.
While compensation to farmers who lost their crops, must take place immediately, the plan to mitigate the effects of the drought, must also focus on creating employment opportunities for agricultural labourers.
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