AT least 122 taluks in four districts— Jalna, Aurangabad, Beed and Osmanabad—are reeling under unprecedented drought in Maharashtra. Lakhs of people are migrating out of the affected areas deserting their cattle and fields to dry and die. These areas have received 25 to 50 per cent of rainfall. The reservoirs have depleted. According to reports in the Marathwada region, there is only nine per cent water in the reservoirs. What has made this situation more macabre is that it is not a simple instance of lack of normal rainfall but the callous attitude and bad policies of the government.
In a telling instance a report in IBNLive channel showed how the garden inside a NCP minister’s sugar factory in Jalna (one of the worst affected areas) was lush and green. Ironically, he is the guardian minister for the Jalna district.
Abetting the drought are four major maladies in Maharashtra. The mushrooming water fun and theme parks that divert huge quantities of water for leisure and pleasure. Second, the increasing number of golf course which require gallons of water for maintenance. As of now, the state has 22 golf courses, with more in the pipeline. The diversion of water to industries is an old issue. But it has assumed alarming levels in Maharashtra, especially in the context of sugar mills. These require enormous volumes of water. Sugar cane cultivation itself is a water guzzler. The water used for cultivating one acre of sugarcane can be used to cultivate 10-12 acres of food grains. Sadly two thirds of sugar mills (sugarcane growth) is located in the drought-prone areas. But with Maharashtra politics dotted with sugar barons, it is unlikely that this situation would change.
There is another dimension to the drought story in Maharashtra. This state along with Andhra Pradesh accounts for the largest number of farmer suicides, mainly because of crop failure from lack of irrigation. Expectantly, Maharashtra has spent huge sums of money on small and local irrigation projects. But with nil result. The money has gone into the pockets of various sections of the society and the fields remain dry as ever. If a simple mathematical calculation is done, the state has spent more for less. The crop output has come down rather steeply in the past one decade, which has seen massive state investments in irrigation. According to The Economic Survey 2011-12 land under irrigation in the state has gone up by just 0.1 per cent in a decade. As of today, less than 18 per cent of cropped area in Maharashtra is irrigated. The Economic Survey 2011-12 pegs the decline in foodgrain output at 23 per cent in a decade.
Social activist and Gandhian Anna Hazare has criticised the government for the hardship faced by the people. He has termed the current drought as ‘man-made’ and blamed a “combine of political apathy and corruption, coupled with unchecked exploitation of water resources” for the dry situation in the region.
One has to only compare the Maharashtra situation with the neighbouring Gujarat. The perennially dry stretches of Saurashtra and Kutch today are green belts of the state. Proper policies, planning, implementation and the involvement of the farmers and workers at the grassroot level have yielded rich dividends. The Modi government encouraged the local agricultural universities and departments to adopt the villages in the area for experiment, collaboration and successful trials. The studies being done in laboratories were transplanted into the land, with the synergy of academics and farmers. The outcome is a new Green Revolution, which has been documented by agricultural scientists. Modi could do all these because he was able to fight the temptation of looting public wealth for private luxury.
Indians have practiced several traditional water conservation methods over the centuries. These are sound plans, suited to the local needs. By just reviving these traditions, a beginning could be made to mitigate the misery of the people. Eqvi-distribution of water to all segments of the society, planning of crops to suit the soil conditions and stopping wasteful diversion of water for fun and leisure activities can all contribute in a major way to increase the availability of water. Sound water harvest projects put in place before the rains can raise the water table levels. These are all measures needing little monetary investment but the involvement of the people.
Drought is not new to India. In Ramayana, Raja Janak was advised to run the plough on land to invoke the rain gods. What Janak got from this ploughing was Sita and the era of plenty and prosperity. In Mahabharata, there is the story of Rishyasringa. The kingdom of Anga was suffering from acute lack of rains. The king Romapada, who had tried all measures finally turned to the saints, who told him that the minute Rishi Rishyasringa steps into the kingdom, there will be healthy rains. The Rishi live in chastity, never having seen a female in his life. Sure enough, it happened. The moral of both these epic episodes is that the rulers, the kings were deeply troubled by the plight of the people and moved heaven and earth to mitigate the situation.
If the common man believes that his government and his leaders are working for the social welfare, the public participation would follow, without fail. The responsibility ultimately rests with the political leadership. India now has neither Janaka nor Rishyashinga. All that it has is a pack of self-serving greedy politicians.