Mumbai: Dark clouds of drought loom over the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions and pose an ominous threat to kharif crops. It is bad news for already debt-ridden farmers in the state. If there are no showers in the next few weeks, these regions will be staring at another year of water scarcity by the summer of 2019.
According to Vijay Shivtare, Shiv Sena minister of state for water conservation, the current situation in Marathwada has been brought about by the humongous consumption of water by the sugarcane crop in this rain shadow area. Despite the region reeling under drought every year, there has been no change in crop patterns. Another official of the rehabilitation department claimed that at least 17 districts are facing a drought-like situation.
Most parts of Marathwada have received average rainfall this year but the same cannot be said about water storage. Currently, water stocks stand at 28.82 per cent. Paithan, popularly known as Jayakwadi dam, which is the lifeline of Marathwada, has just 45.88 per cent water stock on September 18, 2018, as compared to 87.63 per cent on the same day last year.
Manjara dam in Beed district has 1.80 per cent water storage as compared to 88.04 per cent in the corresponding period last year and Majalgaon from the same district, which had 60.48 per cent water stock last year, is completely dry. An official from the water resources department said, “It will be too early to predict the region will face severe scarcity. Generally, we expect rains till October end and this year, due to the ‘adhik maas’ in the Marathi calendar, Ganeshotsav came earlier and that is why we are feeling the absence of rain in this festive season.”
There are nine major dams in Marathwada region, out of which two have dried up and average water storage in dams is barely 28.81 per cent – not sufficient to last the entire year ahead. Even in the Amravati division of Western Vidarbha, average water storage at the moment is 57.37 per cent and in Nagpur, the eastern part of Vidarbha, average water storage is 50.02 per cent.
Vijay Shivtare, minister of state for water resources, said, “Sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop. Despite there being sufficient water in Manjara dam last year, it is almost dry today due to excess use of water from the dam to cultivate sugarcane. There are three sugar mills, which have crushed 34 lakh metric tonnes of sugarcane. This proves how water has been used for specific produce.”
The minister elaborated that water is stored in eight barrages downstream of Manjara dam and people do not bother to check if there is enough water in the dam. Once the barrages receive water, adjacent farmlands cultivating sugarcane get irrigated. The subcommittee meeting on relief and rehabilitation (R&R), chaired by Chandrakant Patil, minister for revenue, will hold a meeting on October 15, when an announcement of a drought-like situation will be made.
A revenue department official said that it is a practice to first conduct a panchnama or initial survey (najar anewari) of the total loss of crops. This will be done after October 15 and the final panchnama will be conducted after November 15. “Only after the panchnama is conducted can the state announce a drought-like situation,” he said. However, the official agreed that the situation was terrible and “at least 17 districts are under the threat of a drought-like situation.”