Author – Sanket Jain
Even as the Maharashtra government has sought Rs.2,000 crore to tackle the drought problem in the state, around 90 lakh farmers face severe repercussions of a drought that has endured for few yeards. The state government has declared drought in over 29,000 villages with Marathwada and Vidarbha regions being the most affected. Evidently, this drought has led to a drastic increase in the number of farmer suicides by 40% in Maharashtra, which is the highest in India.
A crop yield of less than 50% of the regular yield indicates a drought-like condition in an area. Mismanagement of water resources is the biggest reasons behind this drought. Home of about 205 sugar cooperatives, Maharashtra is the second largest sugarcane producer in India next to Uttar Pradesh. Sugarcane being a water guzzler, the issue of diversion of water in channels follows a priority list with sugarcane on top. However, this issue has become a political issue for state politicians and the problem has not been solved till date. Ideas like water governance and conservation have not yet been implemented yet. Thus the imperative lies on adopting practices that can help in saving water and enhancing water management projects.
Despite the water crisis, there is a hope in the state as few villages have developed the art of water management and sustainable utilisation. On the other hand, few voluntary organizations with their innovative ideas and groundwork have helped in solving the drought problem in rural parts of Maharashtra.
Due to the harsh repercussions of drought, poor rural families have lost their bread earner, which has has shaken the very instinct of basic survival. Naam Foundation has stepped in at this crucial juncture with numerous initiatives like construction of houses for the families in which farmers committed suicide, village adoption for 5 villages, distribution of money to widows of farmers who committed suicide, development of sewing clusters, river rejuvenation.
Bollywood actors Nana Patekar and Makarand Anaspure founded Naam Foundation in 2015 and have distributed 4 tons of food grains in Ahmednagar to 340 drought affected families. The foundation managed to collect 80 lakh rupees in a single day in April 2016. Nana Patekar stated that there is no point blaming the government authorities; rather someone has to solve the problem. He also said that it is a misconception that people don’t want to help; in reality, people are concerned whether their money will be utilized properly or not. Other actors Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar have also taken the initiative to help the drought affected families.
Aamir Khan has founded Paani Foundation in early 2016 to work along with the Government of Maharashtra for building awareness about water conservation in rural parts of Maharashtra. The foundation came up with the unique idea of ‘Satyamev Jayate water cup’, which is a water management competition among several village gram panchayats.
This competition is being held in three different districts – Koregaon in Satara, Warud in Amravati and Ambajogai in Beed. It aims to build a community spirit among villagers and hopefully bring some unknown water heroes into the spotlight. The winning villages will be helped to prepare a water plan and budget, and to access funds and government and technical help. Selected candidates will be trained on-field for watershed management in villages.
Hiware Bazar is a village that has set up a sparkling example for others in Maharashtra, which has not been in need of a water tanker for almost 2 decades now! The village in the Ahmednagar district faced drought problems in the 1980s, when people started to migrate to other parts of the state. During this difficult period, Popatrao Pawar, the only postgraduate in the village, contested the gram panchayat elections and became the Sarpanch. Taking charge, Popatrao convinced the villagers to shut down the liquor shops in the village, and got the gram panchayat to tie up with the Bank of Maharashtra to seek loans to poor farmers.
Hiware Bazar’s gram panchayat used the government’s employment guarantee scheme funds to create water conservation structures and forests. 40,000 contour hill trenches were built to conserve rain water. During 1995-2000, the village drafted its own five year plan. With the increase in number of wells, the irrigation facilities have also become effective. With a surge in watershed management activities, the number of well have increased from 97 to 217. Along with this, the per capita income has increased rapidly.
One village on the outskirts of Aurangabad has turned the tide on drought through integrated rural development, teaching a lesson to rest of Marathwada. Patoda in Aurangabad district has a computerised gram panchayat that has installed mandatory water meters and toilet in every household. Patoda has unique water vending machines and 581 families with ATM cards are provided free 20 liters of water.
Every single drop of water is audited and the village’s sewage water is recycled and used for crops. Several projects like covered drainage, running primary school, ban on open defecation, waste management, solar street lighting were undertaken. Anganwadis are also formed in Patoda which have helped in bridging the education gap between urban and rural areas.
With these model villages and voluntary foundations, the Maharashtra state has witnessed some positive changes. However there is a lot more to be done to prevent droughts in future.