The drought looming in one-third of the state has been compared to that in 1972. Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, among others, termed it as worse than the one the state faced 40 years back.
The answer to this remark can be traced more to the government’s failure in agriculture and water management than nature's wrath.
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a network of organisations working on water- related issues, compared and analysed rainfall figures from June to October in 1972 and 2012 in 17 drought-affected districts and found that rainfall in 1972 was much lower than in 2012 for every month except June.
The figures show that in 2012, eight districts witnessed more than 50% deficit rainfall in June, none in July, three districts had 50% deficit rainfall in August, one district in September and two districts in October.
In 1972, three districts witnessed more than 50% deficit rainfall in June, nine districts in July, nine in August, six in September and 17 in October.
In 1971 too, rainfall was low. But in 2011, the rainfall was above average and most of the dams were full.
SANDRP argued that in the intervening 40 years, Maharashtra has been able to build big dams and it should have been able to store more water and reduce the impact of rainfall deficit. However, big dams starting with Jayakwadi, Ujani and Dudhana have nearly 0 % live storage as of now.
One of the reasons that SANDRP attributes this to is sugarcane farming. Overall, the area under sugarcane in Maharashtra increased from 167,000 hectares in 1972 to 102,2000 hectares in 2012. “Solapur, Pune, Ahmednagar, Satara, Sangli, Jalna, Osmanabad, Beed, Latur, Nasik, Parbhani and Aurangabad , all drought prone and drought affected districts of the state, are also major sugarcane producing districts. They collectively produce 79.5 % of sugarcane of Maharashtra and more than a quarter of sugarcane production of the country in 2012,'' said Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP.
The repeated drought cycle has not stopped farmers from taking up sugarcane farming and the government has failed to put any restrictions on this water-guzzling farming or control water releases upstream from the big dams.