More than 19,000 villages in the state are faced with a drought-like situation that could hit agricultural production and lead to a severe drinking water problem in some regions.
The new BJP government is faced with the bleak situation — caused by deficit rainfall — and the challenge of mitigating it, in its first month in power. It has asked the Centre for financial assistance for relief to those affected.
Official statistics show 19,069 villages of the 39,134 in the state have reported a kharip harvest paisewari — a unit of calculating expected crop yield — at less than 50.
Central Maharashtra’s 8,004 villages and Amravati division in Vidarbha, with 7,241 villages are the worst-hit. In the Nagpur division, 2,029 villages have been hit, while in Pune and Nasik, three and 1,782 villages respectively have registered less than 50 paisewari. Konkan is the only division where not a single village has been affected by the deficit rainfall.
This calamity is different from the droughts between 2010 and 2013, which was caused by a failed monsoon. Even then, fewer villages (13,000) had been affected. However, this kharip season, the affected regions, except central Maharashtra, have enough water stored in their reservoirs. The problem lies in standing crops being destroyed by scattered monsoon and unseasonal rains. This means, it is more of an agricultural drought than a hydrological one.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the situation was more serious than the previous droughts. “This is a bigger [natural] calamity. We have asked the Centre to help us at the earliest,” he said, after his weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Fadnavis has asked the centre to relax the procedures of declaring a drought. Usually, the state sends the Centre a memorandum explaining the severity and asks for funds. The Centre will then get teams to visit the state to study the ground reality. The CM said he has asked the Centre to skip these visits and rely on the memorandum, which he said will be sent to the Centre within a week.
“The Centre has the right to declare a drought in any state. The state government can only declare a drought-like situation,” said Fadnavis. The amount of funds the state will demand has not yet been decided.
In the past four years, the Congress-led government had spent more than Rs 13,000 crore on drought releif.
An empowered group of ministers will be put in place to monitor the situation and auto weather forecast centres will be set up in 2,065 places across the state for farmers, the cabinet has decided.
The government’s priority should be preventing farmers from committing suicide, said opposition leader Eknath Shinde. “The government must immediately give Rs 10,000 an acre to the affected farmers, pay them crop insurance money and announce drought at the earliest, instead of just doing paperwork,” he said.