Water Levels Drop To 19 Per Cent As Maharashtra Battles Drought, Again

Water reserves across Maharashtra have plummeted to an alarming 19 per cent, leading to a fourth drought in the past six years.

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BJP-led Maharashtra government questioned over handling of drought in Assembly election year


Mumbai: 

Water reserves across Maharashtra have plummeted to alarming levels - below 19 per cent, which is a drop of 11.5 per cent over last year - leading to a fourth drought since 2014.

However, this could be the worst yet given that the number of water tankers used in the last week of April is the highest since the BJP took charge after the 2014 Assembly polls. 4,779 tankers have been used so far, with 1,000 of them being sent to Aurangabad alone.

In October, the state government had declared a drought in 151 of 358 tehsils, i.e., nearly half the state. In Marathwada, the worst-hit region, water levels in 8 of 9 reservoirs have hit zero. The last time this happened was 4 years ago.

In a series of messages posted on Twitter last week, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis claimed "Guardian ministers" had been asked to visit drought-affected areas to review the situation on the ground.

Mr Fadnavis' words met with sharp criticism from NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who hit out at the government for its late reaction.

He said, "The government has woken up now, after my visit. It was necessary to provide drinking water for people and cattle, employment, fodder, to set up cattle camps and put together a financial package for farmers".

However, the BJP-led ruling alliance, which faces elections in October, says it has already begun relief work.  

According to Mr Fadnavis, 1,264 fodder camps for 8.5 lakh livestock have been set up; tankers have been deployed to 12,116 villages; 4,412.57 crores have been deposited in 68 lakh farmers' accounts; and 1,100 crores have been disbursed as crop insurance.

Mr Fadnavis had promised to make the state tanker-free by 2019 but the opposite has happened.

Through the last week of April, the number of tankers hired by the government has been the highest since the current government took over.

The number of farmer suicides has risen sharply too compared to the period between 2011 and 2014, when the Congress-NCP combine was in power.

In a letter to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the government said 11,995 farmers committed suicide from January 2015 to the end of 2018 - an increase of 91 percent from the earlier period.

With both general and assembly elections being held a few months apart the opposition is demanding answers.

"It raises important questions. What happened to much touted Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan (a water conservation program)? What happened to tankers on demand? What happened to Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana?" former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan asked.

"All this is on paper only. If they would have worked, we wouldn't have had this crisis", he said.

For its part, the state government claims it is prepared to tackle the situation. However, with monsoons only a month and a half away, the government needs to fast-track drought mitigation work.

However, it does raise the question of what happened to chief minister's slogan of making the state drought-free by 2019.



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