Drought like situation in Maharashtra: Government on rough wicket

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Drought like situation has created problem of livelihood among State farmers.
Amid reports of delayed monsoon along with strengthening El Nino effects, nearly 3.6 lakh people from different villages of Maharashtra have sought daily wage work under Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGC) in the last few days. The reason behind the development could be drought like situation due to scarcity of rainfall in the State. In the absence of rainfall, work on farmlands has been hit in the last few days which resulted in almost six fold increase in job demand. Spurt in laburers have been witnessed in areas like Latur, Beed, Washim, Nashik, Amravati, Solapur, Nandurbar, Sindhudurg, Nanded and Akola.

Severe water crisis in parts of Maharashtra
June was one of the driest months in 100 years. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), rain in June was 43 per cent below normal - the lowest since 2009 and among the weakest since 1901. The situation is so grim that until last week of month, the Vidarbha region had received 55 percent less than normal rains, Marathwada saw 75 percent less than normal rains while Central Maharashtra received 61 percent less than normal rains.

What it means?
The situation is very grim and may affect crop production, leading to increased inflation. The rain deficiency has led to decline in cultivation area in many parts of the State. The area under cultivation for the kharif crop last week declined to 131.52 lakh hectares from 200.96 lakh hectares due to non-arrival of monsoon. The sowing of kharif (summer) crops begins with the onset of the southwest monsoon in June.

Moreover, it has created a problem of livelihood among the farmers as with no rain they are left with no work.

Who is to blame: Government or nature

Though the main cause of drought-like situation in the State and farmers' agony is poor monsoon but at the same time poor irrigation infrastructure, grossly overlooked by the ruling alliances in the State cannot be ignored. Over a period of time, State Government has failed to address the issue. Huge funds were issued time to time but due to massive corruption prevalent in State Government's department, ground level realities never changed. Among other, irrigation scam is one of the largest scandals to hit the State in recent times. The seeds of the scam were sown with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) holding the Water Resources portfolio after coming to power in 1999. For 10 years, projects estimated between Rs. 55,000 - Rs. 60,000 crore were cleared by Water Resources Minister Ajit Pawar. Most of these projects were never completed. According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2012, while irrigation projects cleared in the State were the costliest in India, there was only a 0.1% increase in area under irrigation. As the controversy over irrigation scam blew up to uncontrollable proportions, NCP chief's nephew stepped down but only to be re inducted in the State Cabinet after a sham of State guided investigation. Pawar's interim successor Sunil Tatkare too has cleared projects worth Rs 10,000 crore, bringing the total project funds to nearly Rs 70,000 crore.

June 2014 was one of the driest months in 100 years.

What is Government's stand?
The Union Government has acknowledged that large parts of Maharashtra will be affected by drought-like circumstances. Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said some parts of western India, particularly Maharashtra, might face a drought-like situation this year. "Monsoon is delayed. Western India is expected to be worst affected and drought-like situation might prevail in some pockets," Radha Mohan Singh said.

To deal with the situation, the State Chief Minister has directed the administration to continue with water tanker services in drought-hit areas and sought stringent measures against excessive use of water and electricity. Moreover, the State Government has identified another 5.1 lakh jobs under the scheme to meet the demand of daily wage work.

Drought and farmer's suicide have been a politically sensitive issue in the State. As the Assembly elections are round the corner, this issue could be decisive factor. Sensing gravity of the issue, the Chavan Government should take some immediate step to minimise the loss due to the drought like situation and hence, ward off the rout it incurred in the Lok Sabha election.

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