Facing flak from the Opposition and the media over the drought-like situation in Maharashtra, revenue minister Eknath Khadse on Tuesday announced several relief measures for drought-prone farmers including continued 33% subsidy on power bills.
With nearly half the state with 19,000 villages reeling under drought, the BJP government is likely to face a stormy winter session especially with both former ally Shiv Sena and Congress getting aggressive on the issue.
Khadse announced a slew of measures for drought-prone areas through a government resolution including - stay on recovery of agriculture loans, 33.5 % power subsidy, examination fee rebate for students, water tankers, extension of loan repayment . The finances for these relief measures are to be managed by individual departments.
The announcement comes on the heels of verbal spat between Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Khadse. Thackeray had slammed Khadse for not tackling the situation and making uncharitable remarks about farmers much like the insensitive language used by former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
"I undertook a tour and following this we have made way for several relief measures instead of waiting for completion of surveys. For horticulture crops we will be giving the farmers relief of Rs 35,000 per hectare and Centre's share for this at 85% worth Rs 583 crore is on its way,'' said Khadse.
"I have lived and toiled as a farmer. Despite being an agriculture minister for just 16 days, I have done as much is possible to initiate speedy relief measures after undertaking a tour. I don't think I need advice from the likes of those who don't know a thing about farming," said Khadse.
The government resolution issued on Tuesday by his department states that these relief measures will be applicable across all 19,059 villages where paisewari is less than 50 paise. It also mentions that individual departments like power and education should make finances available to local administration. A rough estimate of the cost of these measures, especially power bill subsidy, alone could be in the range of Rs 300 crore.
Officials from the state secretariat, however, admit that given the poor condition of public finances little can be done till help from the Centre trickles in.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was in Satara on Tuesday, also told reporters that the Centre had been asked to send a team to inspect the drought-like situation instead of waiting for panchanams from the state administration. "The process of surveys and carrying out panchanamas can delay the entire compensation process so we have asked the Centre to send its team immediately to survey damage. The Centre will announce substantial compensation to the farmers,'' he said.
The Congress-NCP government, in a poll mode last year, had poured in nearly Rs 3,000 crore from its own kitty for compensation to drought and hailstorm hit farmers besides Rs 4,500 crore that came from the Centre.
"Even if the BJP government wants to there is no money in the kitty now. The state will have to rely on government drought relief yardstick and compensation,'' said a senior official.
The state is currently committed to paying Rs 706 crore as power subsidy bill monthly thanks to the 20% power bill subsidy decision taken by the Congress-NCP just before Lok Sabha polls.