The Maharashtra cabinet is scheduled to take stock of drought, and related issues, when it meets today. The drought-like situation, which many politicians have described as severe as the state’s worst drought in 1972, has prevailed for two months now.
This is not a new or unusual situation for Maharashtra that sees more drought years than good-rainfall years in a decade. Yet, concepts of comprehensive drought-management and drought-proofing have found few takers in Mantralaya.
Drought management, over the years, has been limited to announcing multi-crore relief packages and taking emergency measures after waiting for weeks to see if scanty rainfall improves, which is hardly the way to manage chronic drought areas, say experts.
Maharashtra water supplies minister Laxmanrao Dhoble, on July 30, said “The state is facing a terrible, difficult drought. The government will seek appropriate funds from the Centre to tackle the situation”. Drought management would require him, and his cabinet colleagues, to not only arrange for immediate relief but also plan to provide drinking water, sowing assistance for farmers, and jobs till June 2013.
Often drought management is all about relief packages; the Maharashtra government has already provided for a package worth Rs. 2,685 crore and has received Rs557 crore from the Centre and it is all set to demand a whopping Rs. 5,700 crore more.
In the dry as bone areas of Satara, Sangli and other districts, back in the hills of rural Thane, in the far-flung suburbs of Maharashtra’s premier cities, severely affected by lack of drinking water, the figures of these relief packages seem absurd.
“There’s a cement water tank here for the last seven years but it has no pipeline or tap or anything at all. It’s merely a box,” said Vanita Surum, in Dongripada village (Thane rural), about 125 kilometres from Mumbai.
Not one of the 1,650 water tankers deployed in the state so far are intended to reach her village. Surum, as many in the government, will be hoping that it pours in the next few days.
Only 28% of the state water resources have filled up so far and the government estimates that nearly 11,000 villages and towns will be affected. Deficient rainfall in 288 of the state’s 355 talukas has already affected sowing operations.
With water tanker owners in Mumbai preparing to hike their rates from approximately Rs. 1000 for a tanker (10,000 litres) to Rs. 1,800-2,200 a tanker, water in cities is likely to be more expensive in the days to come. HT will be profiling some of the severely affected areas over the next few days.