NCP leader Sharad Pawar sees window of opportunity in drought

NCP leader Sharad Pawar is trying to resurrect his party,  which was routed in the Assembly elections, by undertaking frequent visits to rural parts of Marathwada, which are grappling with a drought like situation. He is doing so despite health issues, and the searing heat.

One does not need wry statistics to understand the real story behind the high incidence of suicides by farmers in the state. As a union agriculture minister Pawar had played a key role along with then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in devising relief packages for debt ridden farmers in the Vidarbha region. The drought and suicides have now travelled to the neighbouring backward region of Marathwada. Despite these packages, suicides have continued unabated in the state, making the administration and experts wonder what has gone awry.

After touring parts of Marathwada, which is also grappling with an acute drinking water shortage, Pawar lambasted the state government for its callous disregard of the needs of the farmers in the state. Predictably, the Sena and the BJP leaders hit back at Pawar, pointing out that he had done nothing when he was in power to ensure proper water management.

Unmindful of the attacks, Pawar has been taking up issues related to the agriculture sector and assuring farmers of solid support from the NCP. He also called on Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and sought immediate relief for farmers.

Pawar knows that the BJP-Shiv Sena government is on weak wicket when it comes to appeasing farmers in the state as the combine is perceived as an urban-based political conglomeration without any understanding of rural issues. Any agitation against the establishment when there is a drought like situation in the state is bound to garner support without much effort.

Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde, who accompanied Pawar during his tour, hinted at NCP’s plan to launch an agitation against the saffron government in the state.  According to Pawar, farmers need a loan waiver and crop insurance amount within a week. He has sounded his party machinery to take to the streets if the government fails to comply with their demands.

Despite spending thousands of crores, the state administration has not yet been able to ensure proper water supply in rural Maharashtra. The topographical natural conditions in the state are such that these do not allow irrigation beyond a point. The state has a geographical area of 308 lakh hectares but the cultivable area is 225 lakh hectares. Maharashtra’s irrigation coverage is less than the national average of 45 per cent and there is not much scope to expand it. This happens despite the fact that the state has the highest number of dams in India.

There have been many efforts in the past to enhance irrigation facilities in the state started by Vasantrao Naik, Vasantdada Patil, and Sudhakarrao Naik for soil conservation and afforestation to ensure proper additional water resources. However, most of these schemes were either given up mid-way or altered beyond recognition. Pawar was instrumental in developing horticulture in the state in early 1990s and now wants the state government to encourage food processing industry in the state to provide additional financial strength to the distraught farmers.

The BJP-Shiv Sena government has launched the Jalyukta Shivar scheme to reply to the criticism that it does nothing for farmers in the state. According to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the state government’s strategy is to bring more cultivable land under the drought alleviation scheme – Jalyukta Shivar — by using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds for the scheme. The NCP is agitating against the government and wants to project Pawar as the farmers’ messiah and thereby consolidate the NCP as an organisation.

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