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Marathwada reels under drought again: crops destroyed, farmers distressed

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 16 August 2017, 22:49 IST
(Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

When it comes to the monsoons, the Marathwada region of Maharashtra seems to be out of luck yet again. More than two months since the rains were supposed to arrive, the region has received barely any rainfall.

Latur, one of the main urban centres in the region, received only 225mm of pre-monsoon rain, and hasn't seen a drop since the 'onset' of the monsoon.

“The situation is getting critical,” says Sheikh Akhtar, mayor of Latur. “Water levels are going down rapidly. If it doesn't rain now, people of Latur will be forced to migrate to cities like Pune and Mumbai for survival.”

Shailesh Swami, a municipal corporator in Latur, adds: “Millions of people from Latur, Kalamb, Kej and Ambejogai cities and the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation complex in Latur depend on the Dahegaon Dam on the Manjra River. All other minor projects such as Nagzari and Sai have already dried up, and Dahegaon Dam has 25% water. Latur city alone needs 50 to 60 million litres a day of drinking water. At present, water supply is once a week. It will have to be made more sporadic if it doesn't rain soon.”

Crops destroyed

The fact that Latur still has water is down to the state government's Jalayukta Shivar (water farm) project, according to mayor Akhtar.

“Whatever water we have today is just because of the Jalayukta Shivar project, otherwise it would have dried up long ago,” he says.

Last year, the region had above average rainfall, and the Jalayukta Shivar project helped in retaining water in all the reservoirs and rivers. Many rivers, which did not have a single drop of water for more than four years, were flowing, and all the dams and reservoirs were filled to the brim; some even were overflowing.

However, the situation has turned worrisome again. Though the Met Department has predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall next week, it will only help in regenerating the water resources – it won't help the farmers.

Cotton and soybean are the main cash crops in the Marathwada region.

After the pre-monsoon rainfall, the majority of farmers in Marathwada completed tilling and sowing. The crop survived on the moisture from the pre-monsoon showers, but has now started drying up fast.

The rainfall, if at all it arrives next week, cannot revive the crops. It will only help the rabi crop in the winter now.

“Farmers are surviving on crop insurance. Marathwada is the biggest beneficiary of the crop loan insurance scheme, with allocation of Rs 4,000 crore for both rabi and kharif seasons,” says Akhtar.

Farmers blame govt

Almost half of Maharashtra is facing a drought-like situation. Rainfall in 18 districts of the state has not even crossed an average of 50%, while for 11 districts, it is 75%. There are 51 talukas where the average rainfall is less than 25%. As a result, pulses like moong, urad and tur, as well as the soybean and paddy crops have been completely destroyed.

And in the parts of the state where there has been rainfall, there's another problem – pest infestation.

This double whammy is likely to lead to acute problems for Maharashtra in the next few months

Farmer leader Jayajirao Suryavanshi says: “The crops are completely destroyed. Farmers are in serious trouble. I had written to the agriculture minister a month ago and demanded intervention to help the farmers. But nothing has been done. It is high time the government did something for the farmers.”

Suryavanshi says the situation will only deteriorate in the months to come, and criticises the state government for faulty policies, resulting in a critical situation for farmers.

“The water level in the region has depleted drastically. There is less than 10% water in reservoirs and resources. The ban on cow slaughter has added to the problems of poor farmers, who can neither sell unproductive cattle, nor provide fodder and water for them. After a good rainfall last year, majority of the farmers grew tur dal. But the government is yet to procure it. In Paithan taluka of Aurangabad district, around 9,000 quintal tur is yet to be procured. While farmers are in distress, political leaders are busy organising Dahi Handi programmes and spending millions on it. It is nothing but rubbing salt into farmers' wounds,” he says.

First published: 16 August 2017, 22:49 IST