By Sanjay Jog
Reeling under drought conditions in 145 out of a total 353 talukas of Maharashtra, the state government is taking several measures including seeking central assistance and requesting neighbouring state Karnataka to release water, to tackle the crisis.
The state has sought a central assistance of Rs 5,000 crore, including Rs 2,270 crore for relief measures. Last week, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who heads the group of ministers that decides on relief measures for drought-hit states, said he had received report from a Central team that recommended a financial assistance of Rs 778 crore to Maharashtra for water and related programmes. Pawar, who also heads the Nationalist Congress Party, a coalition partner in the Congress-led government in Maharashtra, assured the state of further increasing the aid after the group of ministers’ meeting.
The state government has also launched multiple programmes, including animal camps and drinking water supply through tankers, to help the people deal with the drought-like situation. The government has also sought help from Karnataka to release water for the border districts.
Besides, in order to keep the water supply schemes alive, the government has decided to provide 67 per cent subsidy for the payment of water bills of farmers as well as supply agencies from April 1, 2012, till date in drought-hit villages. The remaining 33 per cent of these arrears would be raised by gram panchayats and water supply agencies. The government has already decided to pay the arrears before April 1 towards water supply schemes in 12 instalments.
Current water shortage has already hampered power generation at Maharashtra State Power Generation Co Ltd (MahaGenco)’s Parli power station in Marathwada.
MahaGenco had made efforts to procure water from alternative sources in order to operate its power plants in scarcity-hit regions.
"Present drought condition is worst than what was prevailed in 1972. The major difference is that in the 1972 drought, there was a shortage of food and water scarcity, but this time, food availability is not an issue, a senior minister told Business Standard, requesting anonymity.
“However, providing water for drinking, agriculture and industry is a major issue as the water levels, especially in western Maharashtra, North Maharashtra and Marathwada, are drastically low. Priority is being given for drinking but the attention is also paid on protecting animal population," he added. So far the government has spent Rs 180 crore on animal camps.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, during his speech at the National Development Council in New Delhi last month, said the state was going through a second successive year of hydrological and agriculture drought.
Chavan appealed to the Centre to review the guidelines of the National Disaster Relief Fund to include drought mitigation measures for such water-stressed areas. The state government has identified 105 projects in such water areas, which could be completed in a short span of time, and could provide lasting solution to drinking water scarcity in such areas. The estimated cost of these projects is Rs 2,270 crore. Moreover, the state government has called upon the Planning Commission to consider a special package outside the frame work of the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme.