With a drought looming, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is a worried man. He says he plans to change the manner in which the government handles water resources management. He failed to deliver on a white paper on irrigation, which ended up as a mere whitewash. Can he deliver on his promise now to combat the vested interests that are holding the state back? Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
How do you plan to approach the change in water conservation methods?
Well, there must be a workable alternative to the existing water conservation methods. We will shift from huge dams to smaller ones which can irrigate every inch of available farm land in the state. The focus must be not just on the sugarcane farmers, but also the cotton growers of Vidarbha where there are routine suicides because of crop failure.
How will the smaller dams help the cotton farmers?
Bt cotton is a good seed and its yield is almost three or four times that of the desi cotton, which was being farmed in the region until a few years ago. The farmer is tempted to spend his last paisa on Bt cotton seed, in the hope and temptation that he will make huge gains on the yield. Then the rains do not come. Bt cotton cannot take such water stress -- unlike the old variety, Bt needs continuous infusion of water. The farmer loses all in the absence of that water. Farm ponds and nullah bunds that irrigate the farms directly will be a huge relief to such farmers and help them tide over the drought period.
And the smaller dams will be easier to complete?
Well, we have to shift from a contract system to a completion system. Such smaller dams will help in drought proofing as the bigger ones have not and will also help us find an alternative water conservation system which should not be affected by low rainfall. Some of these water sources already exist in the villages. We just have to make sure they are properly constructed and utilised.
And if that succeeds there will be a tremendous amount of cotton produced in the state ….
We eventually plan to have ginning and spinning mills for every last bit of cotton produced in Maharashtra within a workable distance of the cotton producing regions. That will also help the farmers get good rates and save them from distress or selling their produce at whatever available rates to other states. A new textile policy that is being worked out will also carry this goal forward and for that, too, we need better water management methods.
So when does this all get under way?
Soon. My stress is on the sustainable. If we can get even 50% of the farms in our state - as against 98% in Punjab - thus irrigated, I am sure Maharashtra will soon be able to feed the whole nation!