Maharashtra’s Marathwada region is facing a severe drought due to inadequate rainfall for two successive years. The task before the state government -- to effectively implement relief and rehabilitation measures --is huge. In an interview with Sanjay Jog, Higher and Technical Education Minister Rajesh Tope, who is also a member of the state Cabinet Committee of Ministers on Implementation of Drought Relief Measures, speaks of the gravity of the situation
What measures have been taken to tackle the drought situation?
Of the eight districts, Jalna, Beed, Osmanabad and Aurangabad have received zero or below 25-50 per cent of the average rainfall. Of the 6,500 villages in the Marathwada region, nearly 3,000 are affected in these four districts alone. The challenge is to provide drinking water on priority, both in urban and rural areas, fodder to animals, to open fodder depots and also to undertake work under the employment guarantee scheme on a war footing.
Acquisition of private wells, deepening of existing lakes and reservoirs, implementation of temporary piped water schemes and deployment of tankers are some of the key measures already adopted in the region. Besides, enough attention is being paid to the modernisation of existing drinking water schemes.
In these four districts, nearly 150 tankers are on the job. Due to the low water level, the tankers have to transport water to up to 40-50 km. The government has approached Karnataka for releasing water. The option of transporting water by rail is also being considered.
Where does the ground water level stand now?
It is depleting. The district administration has allowed digging of bore wells. However, despite digging beyond 300 metre, there are very few chances of finding water even at that level. Till March, wells will be constructed right in the middle of rivers or lakes which are currently dry. There is every possibility of getting water from these sources till March.
What has been the expense so far and how much more money is needed to tide over this situation?
At the state level, nearly Rs 1,200 crore has been spent, of which Rs 350 crore has been spent in Marathwada alone. Let me clarify that funds are not a problem as both the state and central governments are committed to make necessary funds available. There are about five months to go, so an additional Rs 550-600 crore will be needed for the Marathwada region alone.
The empowered group of minister, led by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, had cleared Rs 778 crore for the state and the money has been received. Moreover, the state government has sent a proposal of Rs 1,200 crore to the Centre for the damage caused to rabi crops. In addition to this, a package of Rs 2,200 crore has been forwarded to complete the long-pending water schemes and related works.
Recently, Pawar as well as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan visited the region. This has given a boost to implementing drought relief measures. Pawar has announced a subsidy of Rs 45,000 per hectare for damage to the sweet lime crop. The balance Rs 15,000 per hectare needs to be raised by the farmer. For other crops too Pawar has declared a package of Rs 8,000 per hectare.
The Maharashtra cabinet has donated a month’s salary for relief. To what extent will it help?
This is just a gesture. By contributing a month’s salary, the entire cabinet has sent out a positive message that it is with the drought-affected people. We expect others, including industry, businesses, institutes and individuals, to donate. The planning and development councils of the respective districts from the region have earmarked 15 per cent of their annual plan exclusively for relief measures.
How is the government going about completing small and medium irrigation projects?
Some of them have been cancelled.
In the case of Jalna district -- it’s my home district and I am its guardian minister -- implementing the Rs 225-crore water schemes is the priority and the government has cleared Rs 70 crore to make up for the deficit. Besides, a Rs 150-crore scheme is being implemented in Osmanabad district.
It is true that some projects have been cancelled and there are problems in making funds available due to backlog. We have appealed to the government to increase the limit of irrigation potential from 250 hectare to 600 hectare for implementing minor irrigation projects. Besides, we expect funds to be allocated in the central government package.
The district administration is also implementing water conservation schemes.
What is your take on misuse of funds?
These are stray incidents. The state government, district administration and people are working to effectively use funds and other resources.
There are also reports about distress sale of cattle and migration of people.
Opening of cattle camps by public organisations has been given priority. The government has provided a subsidy of Rs 60 per cattle. All attempts are being made for the survival of the cattle population. Besides, more and more work is being undertaken under the employment guarantee scheme so that people stay in their villages and earn their livelihood. The issue is also being addressed by filling several posts in government and semi-government departments.