As summer sets in, the situation looks grim for the 14 drought-affected districts in Maharashtra, with fights already breaking out over drawing water from wells and people fleeing their homes in the parched countryside to flock to small towns and cities.
The government is struggling to deal with the situation, with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who has blamed the drought on the mess in the irrigation sector, on Tuesday announcing that the government would set up a call centre to address complaints.
A third of the state has been affected by the drought, which officials and activists fear could be worse than the one in 1972, the worst Maharashtra has ever known.
The latest government figures, released on Monday, list 11,801 villages as reeling under drought. The number is a significant rise from the 7,896 villages identified in January.
Worse, water sources in 1,779 villages and 4,709 smaller habitations have totally dried up. And water wars have begun.
In Banewadi village, Sangli district, at a gram sabha called on Monday to discuss the acquisition of a private well to provide drinking water, things got out of hand. The discussion ended with villagers fighting with knives, swords and axes, which left six injured.
With no means of livelihood left in the drought-hit rural areas, the families of farm labourers and workers at brick kilns and construction sites have started migrating to cities in large numbers.
Announcing the setting up of the call centre, Chavan said the government would also raise to Rs.180 from Rs.160 the daily wages under the Employment Guarantee Scheme — with farming not an option, it’s the only means to earning a living in the drought-hit regions.
That’s not enough, said Eknath Khadse, Opposition leader in Assembly. “The government is yet to come up with a proper plan to tackle the drought situation,” he said.
Chavan, who has had several run-ins with deputy CM Ajit Pawar and the NCP over the irrigation issue, has alleged that the drought is the direct result of bad irrigation planning.
Civic officials said Mumbai may not face a water crisis as there seems to be enough water in the city’s reservoirs.