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Parched earth will be state poll battlefield

india Updated: Aug 23, 2009 01:48 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

You know the drought is serious when the police start recording rainfall data.

Across Maharashtra, which has got 30 per cent less rain than usual this monsoon, sleuths of the Intelligence department have been told to compile reports on whether it has rained and how farmers are faring. With Assembly elections imminent, no one’s taking chances. Fears of unrest in the countryside are very real.

From the offices at the police headquarters to Mantralaya’s tense conference rooms to the commodities market of Vashi, the big worry is drought.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s 353 talukas (sub-districts) have been declared scarcity-hit, which is one step short of saying there’s a drought. Officially the monsoon lasts till September, and in the last two days there has been rain. But will it be enough? No one’s making any guesses.

The reservoirs that supply water for drinking as well as farming have on an average just 46% storage. This just two months after the monsoon set in. And, Mumbai and Pune have not lifted water cuts imposed in summer.

In Navi Mumbai’s wholesale farm produce market, the prices of foodgrain, pulses and edible oil are soaring. In a month, sugar prices have gone up by Rs 5 to Rs 30 a kg. No wonder the ruling Congress and Nationalist Congress Party are worried as they seek votes for a third term.

“We built India’s first sealink” is not going to cut much ice in a state where 58 per cent of people survive on agriculture and allied activities. (A third of India’s sugar and cotton comes from Maharashtra. As do 15 to 17 per cent of rice and pulses.)

Drought, price hike and drinking water shortage will be top of mind.

On Thursday, the state increased minimum wages for farm hands and that paid under the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGS) to Rs100 to Rs120 from Rs66 to Rs72.

“With the rains playing truant, we expect a sudden increase in attendance for NREGS,” said Labour Minister Nawab Malik, part of the team working out the NCP’s poll strategy.

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