Experts blame it on poor groundwater management, lax attitude of government in providing irrigation facilities
Drought has again hit large parts of Maharashtra this year. But the worst affected are two talukas in Sangli district. Jat and Atpadi are facing the worst drought in decades, despite river Krishna flowing 100 km away. Analysts blame the plight on poor management of groundwater and lax attitude of the state government in extending irrigation facilities to the region that falls in the rain shadow area of the Western Ghats.
People in these talukas are adept at making do with meagre rainfall. Traditionally they grow sorghum, pearl millet and wheat that require less water. But some two decades ago, lured by the profits earned by farmers in western Sangli, which has adequate irrigation facilities from the Krishna Valley project, Jat and Atpadi farmers began growing cash crops. “Commercial cultivation of the crops forced them to over-exploit groundwater,” says Chintamani Sahasrabuddhe, bureau chief of Marathi daily Pudhari. Within years the talukas notched a place in the world map of pomegranate producing areas. But since 2005 the region has been witnessing a drastic change in rainfall pattern (see table). This year there is no rain at all. With rainfall playing truant, farmers have nearly exhausted their groundwater resources. “Till last year, only the wealthy farmers could manage their crops despite the water shortage by deepening their borewells,” says Anandrao Patil from Atpadi. “This year even they are in trouble,” he adds. Pomegranate trees on his 16 hectare orchard have dried up or withered, leading to heavy losses.
“Drought is a natural cycle in the region that makes a comeback every three years,” says Sahasrabuddhe. “We cannot change this. But we can handle the situation with water resources management and by changing the crop pattern.”
Madhav Chitale, an expert of groundwater conservation in Sangli, says it is high time that the government undertook long-term water management in the rain shadow region. Retired geologist Suresh Khanapurkar says, “Aquifer recharge is the only solution to the problem. Deepening and widening of existing streams, nullahs and water bodies is the need of the hour. This will serve two purposes—accommodate additional water during floods and release stored water during crisis.” The government should study the changing rainfall pattern and undertake water resources management accordingly. Efforts should be made to arrest every drop of rain and make it percolate in the ground, he says.
Anandrao Patil says the completion of Tembhu irrigation scheme of Krishna Valley Project is the only way to save the farmers in the rain shadow region. “The scheme envisaged supplying irrigation and drinking water to Tasgaon, Kadepur, Jat and Atpadi talukas. The water has reached Tasgaon and Kadepur talukas. But there is no progress since last 15 years.
Arun Mane, state unit president of Maharashtra Rajya Shetkari Parishad who has been fighting for the cause of farmers since 1980, says: “All the funds given by the government for irrigation projects have turned out to be dead investment. The drought in the state is not natural; it is government-made calamity.” The situation can change if government takes up scientific management of rain water, ground water and water stored in lakes and ponds. The annual average rainfall in Jat and Atpadi talukas is around 300 mm. This is not a good rainfall, but sufficient to sustain traditional crops like sorghum, pearl millet and wheat. More than half of the rain water runs off as there is not mechanism to arrest it and force its percolation. According to Mane, there should be restriction on ground water resources exploitation and also on crop pattern. Taluka-level committees should be formed to monitor water extraction and its use. It has been observed that wealthy farmers are exploiting ground water resources as per their whims. Mane suggests banning sugar mills and prohibiting sugarcane cultivation and digging borewells in Jat and Atpadi talukas. Even if the farmers in that area save 10 per cent water, it will solve the problem of annual drinking water of drought hit area, Mane says.
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