Two talukas in Maharashtra face worst drought in memory

Author(s): Ashwin Aghor
Experts blame it on poor groundwater management, lax attitude of government in providing irrigation facilities

Anandarao Patil
Anandrao Patil’s 16-hectare orchard in Atpadi has withered as even borewells have gone dry

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.

Changing rainfall pattern
Year Jat Atpadi
2005 520 mm 153 mm
2006 616 mm 223 mm
2007 536 mm 577 mm
2008 368.10 mm 356 mm
2009 710.70 mm 600 mm
2010 742.80 mm 575 mm
2011 375.80 mm 389 mm

D R Jakhi, senior geologist at Sangli, says the water level could have dipped below 300 metres in Jat and Atpadi. According to Sangli Zilla Parishad, 35 of 41 farm ponds and all dug wells in the talukas have dried up since March. Even the Atpadi lake has dried up. Civic administration is now digging the silt to extract the remaining water from the water body.

“Entire plantations in villages like Nelkaranji, Kharsundi, Tadvale, Bhingewadi, Jambhulai, Zare, Hiwtad, Atpadi, Banpuri, Dighanchi and Shetfal have died,” says Sarjerao Khilari, a farmer from Kargani village. He has not seen such a severe drought in his entire life. “We have barely enough water to sustain my family and 36 livestock,” says Khilari, as he helplessly watches his orchard of 15,000 pomegranate trees dying. Ashok Deshmukh, a farmer from Hiwtad village in Atpadi, who used to earn Rs 27 to Rs 30 lakh annually from pomegranate plantation on his one hectare land, has suffered losses to the tune of Rs 40 lakh this year. Unofficial estimates put the losses faced by farmers in the blocks to the tune of Rs 110 crore.

After declaring acute water shortage in 7,296 villages in 15 of the state’s 35 districts (see map) in March, the government issued a directive to ensure a supply of 20 litres of water per head every day to these villages. For the 200 villages in Atpadi and Jat, the administration has sanctioned 14,550 trips by 39 tankers. The government has also issued directives for supplying free fodder to cattle. But residents say they are getting water once in three to four days.

Vilas Jagtap, a Nationalist Congress Party leader in Sangli, says almost all the water resources in the region have dried up. So people are getting just five to 10 litres of water per head as against 20 liters and cattle are getting mere 200 to 250 gm fodder as against 15 kg per day.” According to cattle census, Jagtap says, 1,750 tonnes of fodder is required daily in Jat. But so far the government has provided only 3,802 tonnes.

Unable to feed the livestock, people are selling their cattle to slaughterhouses at throwaway prices. Several families are also migrating to Mumbai and Pune in search of work, the way they used to do before the pomegranate era began in the talukas.

Get water wise: say experts

“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.

Central team visits Karnataka to assess drought impact

Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda at the Legislative Assembly on Dec. 13, 2011. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
The Hindu Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda at the Legislative Assembly on Dec. 13, 2011. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

A central team arrived on Wednesday to assess the impact of drought in parts of Karnataka, where the Government has declared 99 taluks as drought-hit.

Replying to a debate on the drought situation in the Legislative Assembly, Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda said once the team files the report with the Centre after the two-day visit, the State would take out an all-party delegation to the Union Government to press for grant of funds towards drought-relief works.

He announced sanctioning of Rs 36 crore for drilling borewells in drought-hit areas.

Mr. Gowda said as on October end, the crop loss was to the tune of Rs 4,544.84 crore, adding, as per the Central norms, a memorandum has been submitted to the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar seeking additional relief funds of Rs 723.24 crore.

The Chief Minister listed various steps taken by the Government from early October towards drought-relief works.

“Funds are available with Deputy Commissioners in districts to take up relief works. There is no shortage of fodder anywhere in the State,” Mr. Gowda said, rejecting the Opposition Congress and JDS charge that the Government lacked seriousness in tackling the scarcity situation.

Mr. Gowda said 956 farmers have killed themselves in the State since 2008 but added such suicides have come down “significantly” in recent months. He gave farmers’ suicide figures of the neighbouring Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to suggest that such numbers were lower in Karnataka.

Countering Mr. Gowda’s claim, leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah (Congress), citing a magazine report that quoted figures of the national and state crime records bureau, said 6,000 farmers had committed suicide in the state in the past three years.

Farmers’ suicides are counted only if they have land-holding, have taken loans from cooperation sector or commercial banks and it is proved they ended their lives because of the loans they have taken, he said, asserting many deaths don’t fall in this category.

“If you have funds, why have you not paid money to farmers who suffered crop loss,” Mr. Siddaramaiah asked.

He demanded that the government fund the crop insurance premiums of small and marginal farmers as well as those belonging to SCs and STs.

The Congress staged a walk-out from the House, with Mr. Siddaramaiah saying the opposition members were unhappy with the Chief Minister’s reply and the government lacked seriousness in dealing with the drought situation.

No two droughts are alike

Author: Richard Mahapatra
Posted on: 17 Aug, 2011
Why government’s 2009 drought management plan may not work this year

Photo: Ruhani Kaur
Half way into the season, the monsoon plays truant. The India Meteorological Department resets its forecast. Low rainfall in the second half of the monsoon (August- September) means a rain deficit of six to 24 per cent. This is bad news for close to 121 million people who are yet to recover from the severe drought of 2009, triggered by a 22 per cent monsoon deficit.

Agriculture ministry officials in Delhi are confident of “hassle-free” drought management. Their confidence arises from the fairly well-managed drought of 2009. The strategy is simple: clone the drought response template of 2009. The drought of 2009 affected more than half of India’s districts in 14 states, impacting 121 million people.

But this strategy marks a fundamental mistake policymakers commit: misunderstanding the route that a deficit monsoon takes to become a severe drought. A drought is better understood—thus better managed—while it unfolds.

So, can we equate the 2009 and 2011 droughts in our response? Or for that matter, can two droughts ever be tackled in the same manner? In popular perception, a deficit monsoon leads to a drought straightaway. But in reality there is a complex interplay of rainfall, its time and spread, and government response. Each drought has distinct features. The spread and intensity of a drought entirely depends on when the monsoon fails to pour. Subsequent government responses to manage the situation decide how severe its impact would be on people.

It will be prudent to look at the 2009 and 2011 situations to understand the fundamental differences between the two. In 2009, the drought was caused by the delay in monsoon in June which delayed sowing. Once it revived in July, agricultural activities resumed. The winter monsoon (October-December) was normal, thus helping retain soil moistures. Many farmers who started late could easily extend their season up to November. Government’s response in terms of alternative short-term crops and diesel subsidies helped people tide over the crisis.

In case of the current monsoon, the deficit is being experienced in July-August. Eight states reported 30-50 per cent rain deficit till August 1. July is the crucial month for sowing and retaining already sown crops. Monsoon failures in July impacts both crops already sown in a few states and delays sowing in many places. With just two months of monsoon left, uncertainty grips farmers. India’s severest droughts in terms of spread and crop loss—1979, 1987 and 2002—have been triggered by monsoon failures in July. Unlike the 2009 drought, these three droughts are still remembered for causing extreme human misery. They decisively changed government’s drought management programmes. But one critical aspect was still not recognised: the link between the time of monsoon failure and the severity of its impacts.

The other worrying aspect is that this year’s forecast of a deficit monsoon follows close on the heels of the severe drought of 2009. The worst case scenario projected for the current monsoon is a rain deficit two per cent more than the 22 per cent deficit of 2009. So the inevitable question is: should we just continue the 2009 programmes to fight another possible drought? Chances are high that government will do just that post declaration of drought. That would be a mistake.

Impacts of drought can stay long. A study by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines shows that drought is a major factor for keeping people below the poverty line forever. In a severe drought year, the research found, farmers in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh suffer agricultural losses close to US $132 million. “The effects of drought often trap them in perpetual poverty,” the study observed. The survey found that almost 13 million people in these three states who sit perilously just above the poverty line fall below it due to drought-induced income loss. The same districts that suffered the drought of 2009 are again facing drought-like conditions due to deficit rainfall this year. In 2010, many of them also suffered delayed monsoon, bringing down yields. So people in these districts first need years of consistent livelihood supports post-drought to enable them to return to their normal economic state.

It is clear that government has to adopt two approaches. First, define drought management plan based on time of monsoon failure. Second, mount an overarching livelihood programme that continues support to drought-prone people. India has elaborate drought mitigation programmes. Now there is a crisis in the management plan as well. These two aspects need to be tuned to the least understood aspects of drought.

How the Maharashtra Ended Famine


Maybe the government, the National Advisory Council (NAC) and other assorted enthusiasts of the Food Security Bill can learn from Maharashtra about moving towards ending hunger altogether.

In 1963, the government of Maharashtra  (population in 2010 over 100 million) ended famine forever in the State. It did this without adding a morsel to anyone’s diet. It did so simply by passing an Act in the Legislature that deleted the word ‘famine’ from all laws of the State. No kidding. This was called ‘The Maharashtra Deletion Of The Term “Famine” Act, 1963” (and was dug up after decades by an independent researcher from Bangalore.)

The basis for this? Let the Act explain itself. It asserts that “there is now no scope for famine conditions to develop.” Why so? Because “the agricultural situation in the State is constantly watched by the State government.” And “relief measures as warranted by the situation are provided as soon as signs of scarcity conditions are apparent.” Goodbye Famine.

The next paragraph says the term ‘famine’ “has now become obsolete, and requires therefore to be deleted” (emphasis added) from “other laws on the subject in their application to the State.” It decrees that “for the words ‘famine or acute scarcity’ the word ‘scarcity’ shall be substituted,” in all laws of the State. Lucky Maharashtra — it can’t ever have acute scarcity either.
By slaying famine and acute scarcity on paper, a government kills its own responsibility towards citizens, mainly poor and hungry ones, in times of crisis. Its burden becomes less. It can concentrate (especially in Maharashtra) on boosting the Indian Premier League and its billionaires.

This approach essentially defines a problem out of existence. You can’t fight famine — so abolish it. It’s a proud tradition the State still hews to. Can’t stop farmers’ suicides, so redefine who a farmer is. Then redefine what a suicide is. Maharashtra has done both. Why not have a law banning the word ‘farmer’ or ‘suicide’ or both? Solves an annoying problem in a State that has seen, in official count, over 44,000 farm suicides since 1995.

This is an Act in a State with a gosh-awful record in food production for years. That includes a 24 per cent fall in 2008-09. A rich State that has seen far more child hunger deaths than many poorer ones. A State that added greatly to its hungry with 2 million people losing their jobs between 2005-06 and 2007-08. That’s over 1800 each day — and that’s before the global meltdown of September 2008, according to the State’s own economic survey.
The 1963 Act casts its shadow to this day. By legal definition, we cannot have a serious crisis in Maharashtra. So when there is one, we respond to it on a much lower scale than needed. No matter how deadly the crisis, relief work will never be up to the mark because it is not required by law to be so.
The Union government and the NAC can learn from this. Why not just abolish the word ‘hunger’ by law? Replace it, maybe, with ‘a mild craving for calories’ (mild, not ‘acute,’). Or words to that effect. End of hunger. We’ve started down that road. The NAC’s idea of ‘universal PDS (public distribution systems)  in 150 districts” is similar. It re-defines the word ‘universal.’ Death by definition has been routine for decades in India — consider the poverty line debates, for instance.

Meanwhile, say the ‘experts,’ the millions of tonnes of grain rotting in open yards present a “golden opportunity” for India to export this in bulk “and seize on the high prevailing global prices of grain.” That is also what the government hopes to do. Its affidavit in response to a slap from the Supreme Court speaks of liquidating the excess stocks by open market sale (read exports).

Leave aside for a moment the appalling insensitivity of exporting grain when there are, as the Supreme Court says, many “admittedly starving people” at home. Just look at the logic of it. You have a gigantic pile up of grain. You have these admittedly starving people. You say the production is not enough to go for a universal system in PDS — even while boasting we have so much grain, we can cash in on high global prices. Remember that the government has bragged of “recording the highest ever production of about 235 million tonnes of food grains in 2008-09 …” So much so that we cannot store half of it and it is rotting.

Who will you export it to? Are there good global prices for rotting grain? Grain that even when in best condition was not of superior quality? What you will do is flog it at rock bottom prices to traders who know you won’t consider any other option — like letting the hungry eat it — and can knock your prices through the floor. And then the traders can export it as cattle feed — like India has done before in this very decade. About the only thing Iran and Iraq could agree on in 30 years was that the grain exported to them from India was unfit for human consumption. Both rejected shipments early this decade. But there are always, never fear, European cattle. Talk of sacred cows — these will be subsidizhed by some of the hungriest humans on the planet.
The government knows this is how it will end up — and is not at all averse to that happening. Apart from the juicy avenues of corruption it presents to many connected to the Food Ministry and the trader lobbies linked to them, it makes “sound economic sense” in their worldview. One in which the hungry count for little. The National Democratic Alliance did the same thing in 2001-03 and paid the price for it in 2004. The United Progressive Alliance feels confident the elections are far off. And there are no pesky Leftists to restrain them in this innings. This is the time to ram through ‘hard decisions.’
Meanwhile, even as we talk of ‘exportable surpluses,’ we look around for ways to make up our production shortfall. Indian companies are buying land in parts of Africa to grow foodgrain. This finds approval with the Working Group on Agricultural Production set up by the Prime Minister and chaired by Haryana Chief Minister B.S. Hooda. Its report says “We should seriously consider these options for at least 2 million tonnes of pulses and 5 million tonnes of edible oil for 15-20 years.”

Indeed, the Hooda report wants us to spread our net further. It says “Indian companies can be encouraged to buy lands in countries like Canada, Myanmar, Australia and Argentina for producing pulses under long-term supply contracts to Indian canalizing agencies.” (Thereby eyeing four continents besides Africa). So even as we convert more and more food crop land to cash crop or to non-farm use at home, Indian companies (doubtless with handsome government support) will buy land and grow grain in poorer countries (which is where it will mainly happen). Why? So we can create worse food crises in even poorer nations? But what if the locals get restless? They might resent the food they hunger for being shipped to India? No worries. What are we building a Blue Water Navy for, anyway?

A dismal debate all around. Yet, in the next few weeks, the government, the NAC, Parliament, and the judiciary will all be called upon to take major decisions, even vital steps, on the food security of the Indian people. They might want to remember that there is existing legislation to draw from, legislation far superior to and of a very different kidney from the “Maharashtra Deletion of the Term ‘Famine’ Act, 1963.” That is, the Directive Principles of State Policy — that give us the vision and soul of the Indian Constitution.
Of course, the moment we speak of the Directive Principles, up pops the point: “but these are not enforceable!” Yet, the very line of the Constitution which says they are not enforceable goes on to say they are “fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws.” How the state — and others — perform their duties will be on display in the next fortnight.

Will the courts say anything about the notion of shipping grain abroad when millions go hungry at home? Will the government say something other than ‘no’ to the needs of the hungry? Will the NAC rethink its stand on a universal PDS? Will Parliament accept fraudulent definitions of food security? Will anyone speak for the Directive Principles of State Policy and how policy must work towards strengthening them? It would, of course, be silly to expect a government of this sensitivity to care a fig for the Directive Principles. But perhaps we can hope that the Supreme Court does.

P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, where this piece appears, and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought.He can be reached at:

Arvind Singh Bisht, TNN 30 August 2009, 04:55am IST

LUCKNOW: It is a catch-22 situation in UP. While there is no reprieve from the severe drought in 58 of the total 70 districts in the state,

floods have now become the bane of over one dozen districts. Incidentally, these flood-affected districts are also included in the list of drought-affected districts.
Uniquely, it is East UP which is under floods, while Western UP reeling under severe droughts, has been spared so far from this. Surprisingly, these floods are not due to excessive rain, but are caused due to excessive flow of water from Nepal into the rivers like Ghagra, Rapti, Gandak and Saryu and Narayani. All these rivers are either flowing above the danger mark or just touching this point.
The threat still looms large, as monsoon is not yet over. If the past experience is any cue, then floods have been most common in UP in the month of September. The government by its own admission puts the estimated flood-affected population at present at over 12 lakh in as many as 38 tehsils of 12 districts of Behraich, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Siddarth Nagar, Deoria, Shravasti, Sitapur, Faizabad, Kushinagar, Gorakhpur, Bahraich, Gonda and Balrampur.
The number might swell, if there is more rain in the catchment areas, particularly in Nepal, which is like a scourge for the state in term of floods.
The worst hit are the farmers, who get peanuts in spite of the political blame game going on between the Mayawati government and the Congress-led government at the Centre over the issue of relief package. The state has demanded a hefty sum of around Rs 8,000 cr for drought relief. The package for the flood relief will be in addition to this.
But for the farmers, getting this relief is far more difficult than to face the ordeal of nature’s vagaries. The norms for the relief are as: Rs 1 lakh in case of a death. For rehabilitation, Rs 20 per day each are given to every adult and Rs 15 per day to minor. For the loss of crop, a compensation of Rs 2,000 per hectare is admissible. Likewise, Rs 25,000 relief is given on the destruction of a `pucca house’ and Rs 2,000 on a `kuchha house.’
However, getting this relief is not possible without running from pillar to post. Most of the time it’s very purpose gets defeated due to inordinate delay in its disbursement. The most defective is the compensation norm set for the loss of crop. This is fixed Rs 2,000 per hectare. But the fact remains that most of the land-holdings in UP are less than one hectare. So, the majority of farmers, who are at the rock-bottom of the society virtually get nothing out of the government’s relief. In fact, this comes as a jackpot for the revenue officials and other concerned, who stand to gain most by this.
Already, the situation has taken a turn for the worst in the state. The adversity of nature has put the farmers, particularly marginal and small farmers in abject poverty. The result is that of suicides by farmers in the state. In one such case reported from Lakhimpur-Kheri only last week, a farmer couple– Dharmpal (35) and his wife Dharma Devi committed suicide due to indebtedness.
Incidentally, UP has the dubious distinction of highest number of indebted farmers — much more than Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh where maximum number of farmers’ suicide take place — and the above incident comes as a wake up call.