Maharashtra’s Drought: Has Enough Been Done?

The water crisis situation in Maharashtra has been a persistent problem for the past few years and erratic and scanty rainfall has adversely affected many regions in the state– it has been speculated that over 20,000 villages might run out of water soon. With every passing year, the drought is worsening and issues such as farmer suicides, water conservation, and destroyed agricultural produce are on the rise. The state, known to be one of the more progressive and developed regions of the country, is facing a scary condition– one that could have far reaching implications on its people and socio-economic progress.

180 of 358 talukas were recently declared drought-hit and more are likely to follow. The last time the state faced a similar water scarcity was in 2016, when 28,662 of the 40,559 villages in Maharashtra were declared drought-hit. Back then, the Vidarbha region, comprising Nagpur and Amravati divisions, as well as Marathwada, were the worst hit. This time, 12 districts in Marathwada and north Maharashtra are facing the drought, which include Aurangabad, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna, Nanded, Latur, Osmanabad,and Parbhani.

For providing relief, the government has stated that affected areas will be exempted from land revenue collection and announced waivers on electricity bills for water pumps along with a complete waiver of examination fees for school-going students. The government has also frozen the recovery of crop loans. Currently, over 300 tankers have been deployed to supply water to affected areas, of which about 200 tankers go to Marathwada, while around 125 tankers have been deployed to north Maharashtra.

Although water is being supplied, it still does not meet the needs of the villagers. This happens as most of them engage in agriculture and their primary source of income remains the revenue they earn through their practice. Thus, they require water not only for their daily domestic needs and their animals, but also for their fields. When the tankers arrive in the villages, they either fill the wells, or distribute the water directly while villagers have to stand in line. This is a time-consuming process which also involves great physical effort, mostly undertaken by women, who either have to go to the wells to fetch water, or stand in the heat endlessly to wait for their turn, lift the heavy water-filled buckets or utensils and walk back to their homes, which are often far away.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis had called out to the central government for help in tackling this condition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured the state of aid, by ensuring that the farmers got immediate relief through the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna. He stated that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of 21 rabi and kharif crops including sugarcane had been raised to benefit the farmers, and that that the central government had taken up pending irrigation projects under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna, many of which are located in Maharashtra. Yet, farmers feel that nothing has been done to provide them any relief. Owing to lack of water supply, they have been unemployed for at least six months while their fields remain dry. Some say that they have to travel to other villages and towns in search of work, without the guarantee of finding any. They do not have the money or the resources to dig up water from the ground, and claim that the local government bodies do not pay heed to the same.

Some villages have undertaken water conservation measures through community efforts. For example, Chothachi Vadi, a village in Palghar, has built water wheels and tanks for rainwater harvesting. Through such measures, the villagers hope to have enough water during and after the monsoon, but will likely remain helpless when they run out of water resources.

The state has much to do to tackle the drought situation. A tough drought could lead to an increase in the number of farmer suicides– an issue that has been a harsh reality for the state to face. Experts state that the drought is not a meteorological but a hydrological one, owing to failure of government and public policy. It is disappointing that even though Maharashtra has one of the largest dam networks in the country, it faces the problem of water shortage and distribution management. The government should prioritize water utilization from existing resources, and administer the situation closely.

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