Parts of Maharashtra are experiencing an unprecedented drought. Even drinking water is becoming a chemical curiosity. Some areas of the state have always experienced periodic droughts and several excellent drought relief and water management programmes have been developed in this
For instance, former chief ministers like YB Chavan and Vasantrao Naik had propagated the idea of Pani Panchayats at the village level. I am not sure what recent contributions have been. The only help the government can immediately extend is to provide water for domestic consumption.
Maharashtra has experience in drought proofing but what we now need is a well defined Drought Code which will indicate the proactive measures that need to be taken. For example, seed reserves of alternative crops in perennial drought areas are important.
With the onset of the era of climate change, extreme weather events like drought and floods are likely to become more frequent.
If there could be a well planned programme for ground water use coupled with drip irrigation, it will help our farmers. Drought management has to become an integral part of climate management.
A cadre of Drought Managers will have to be developed at the village level. They should be well-versed in the art and science of drought management with particular reference to water harvesting and efficient water use.
The state government has a water policy. It has to develop a land-use policy. Land and water-use cannot be separated since land-use decisions are also water-use decisions.
Sugarcane cultivation is a case in point. Joint studies carried out by the central ground water board, Union ministry of water eesources and the Government of Maharashtra indicate that nine blocks out of 353 in the state fall under the ‘over-exploited’ category; 1 in ‘critical category’ and 19 in ‘semi-critical category’.
The remaining 324 blocks fall in ‘safe’ category. In the blocks falling under the safe category, we should develop Ground Water Sanctuaries which could be tapped for domestic use as well as for the needs of farm animals, when absolutely essential.
The state government has already enacted the Maharashtra Ground Water Regulation for Drinking Water Purposes Act in 1993. A more comprehensive draft Ground Water Bill is also being developed.
What is now important is to make rain water harvesting mandatory both in farms and in homes. At the same time, a movement for higher income and crop per drop of water should be promoted in all gram sabhas and local bodies. Supply augmentation and demand management should receive concurrent attention.
(MS Swaminathan is an agricultural scientist and former member of parliament and is known as the father of the Green Revolution)