Alarmed by the deficient rainfall, state machineries have hit the panic button and have pressed on with relief measures that were all set to be suspended during the course of this month.
In a special cabinet meeting on Friday, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan decided to grant immediate permissions for plans to do with drinking water, and those providing water tankers indefinitely.
On August 8, the state cabinet had decided that the supply of water tankers to parched villages would continue only till August 31, while setting up of fodder depots will be discontinued after August 15. Both these deadlines have now been abolished.
Chavan has also asked district collectors for data on rain and crop-sowing situation in every taluka, in the event the government needs to declare drought-affected areas. At present, the state has more than 64 talukas that meet the criteria for being declared as drought-hit — less than 50% average rain, and less than 50% crop sowing.
According to a senior minister, a lump sum amount of around Rs5,000 crore will be kept aside in the state budget, a part of which will come from central funding.
Following complaints from ministers that the Rs2,000 crore package declared in the winter session for soyabean, cotton and paddy farmers has not reached the beneficiaries, Chavan has set out an August 25 deadline for clearing all disbursements.
To aid drought relief further, the state government wants to re-draw rules related to Centre's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA).
For this, a cabinet sub-committee has been formed, which will be headed by relief and rehabilitation minister Patangrao Kadam. "Maharashtra is geographically diverse and we cannot follow the central MNREGA scheme, which has uniform rules for all regions. We need to consider issues such as migration, high-drought areas and more employment days required in some regions while charting this out. We will be approaching the Centre once this is finalised," Kadam said.