Prabhakar (Bhaiyya) Deshmukh had been on hunger-strike in Mumbai for nearly two months demanding release of water from other dams to the near dry Ujani dam, which is affecting agricultural activities.
But the Maharashtra government would not care till the Pawar controversy generated public debate. The waters that Deshmukh wants, runs deep into the heart of the Maharashtra politics. The sugar lobby controls the politics of the state, especially NCP and the Congress. Deshmukh has been demanding water from 17 dams in Pune district to be released into Ujani dam.
But the Pune region is controlled by the Pawar family and enormously rich sugar lobby. Pawar cannot afford to displease the sugar lobby, which is the main source of political funds.
Even though the government rules allow 5 per cent of irrigated land for sugarcane farming, in Pune district alone, nearly 40 per cent of the total irrigated land is under cane cultivation, which is illegal.
Sugar is water-intensive farming and lucrative politically.
Ironically, Solapur region, from where Deshmukh hails, has the largest share in sugarcane production in the state. But he is not Pawar even though Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has won his parliamentary seat from this region. May be, due to this reason, Sharad Pawar was quick to apologise for his nephew's remarks on 'filling the dams by urinating'.
Deshmukh says that "there is no drinking water in our district; animals are dying and five people died after they went out in the hot sun in search of water. The land is barren, though the canals from Ujjani dam pass through our farmlands. All we ask is that drinking water be supplied to us from the canals."
On Ajit Pawar's crude remarks, the Solapur farmer said: "his remarks have hurt us; he doesn't have the time to come and talk to us. He is not bothered about drought in the state. He should be ashamed of himself."
Maharashtra is reeling under its worst drought in four decades; a majority of the state is parched and there's an acute shortage of drinking water.
Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the state government to release water to the Ujani dam in drought-hit Solapur district.
Turning down the state's plea for more time, a Division Bench of chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice MS Sanklecha ordered that water be released within 24 hours to the low-lying dam, where the stock has depleted critically, affecting 500 sq km of agricultural land.
The petition states that Ujani is one of the biggest dams in the district and provides multipurpose benefits such as irrigation, hydroelectric power, and potable and industrial water supply among others.
According to the petitioners' lawyer Madhav Chaudhary, the law mandates that water level of dams be maintained equally. However, the level of Ujani is minus 30 percent of its capacity, he told the court.