Maharashtra is facing the worst ever water crisis in 40 years, a drought which has led to violence in the interiors of Maharashtra. Is this also not a failure of the agricultural and irrigation policies of the state?
Let me begin by tell you that we are facing a severe drought in the state which is a result of scanty rainfall in the last two years. It’s a natural calamity, there is very little one can do, I wish we could manufacture water. Rhetoric apart, it’s a serious situation. In fact if there is a third consecutive year of scanty rainfall, we will have to consider migration. Having said that, let me assure you that the state is doing its best to not just reach out, but to reach out drinking water to people. That is our immediate priority. Emergency plans are in place and the state will do its best to prevent large-scale migration. 123 talukas in Maharashtra have been declared drought-hit with the Marathwada region being the worst affected with only nine per cent of water remaining in dams. I have requested the railways to keep an emergency plan in place to transport water and to see where water could be loaded and offloaded from trains. It is not required immediately but it might be required in the months of April, May as right now it’s just the onset of the summers.
There has been a demand to shut down water bottling plants by the agriculture minister of the state?
See, first things first, droughts are not new to the state. We have had droughts earlier. Yes this is one of the worst in 40 years but we had begun to take measures after it rained less last year. The government was tapping every source of water to fight the scarcity but there was no need to shut down these plants.
But does this also not bring into light the mess the irrigation department is? Last year Ajit Pawar, the irrigation minister, was questioned and made to resign and then reinducted because of corruption. Aren’t these two related, isn’t Maharashtra suffering at the hands of corrupt practices in the irrigation department?
About Ajit Pawar, why he resigned and why his party reinducted him is something you need to ask the NCP. As the CM of the state I want to tell you that there are some entrenched fallacies which need to be worked on, and I am trying to break the practices. It’s clear that attention has been paid only to big-ticket dams, which is not going to help farmers who are beyond the command area of those dams. Also there is a contractor system in place and this system is an impediment to swift completion of the dams. So we will have to link the payment of these dams to completion within time frames rather than endless payouts to contractors who never deliver. Instead of the block dams or big dams, we would now see to it that construction of farm ponds, nullah bunds, cement bunds and other such minor irrigation works that would be make water available to farmers 24X7 through the year.
Will the package that has been awarded to Maharashtra for drought relief help the current situation? Also, how are you trying to reach out to people? Is there is a fear that farmer suicides could escalate?
See, it is wrong to link the two things together. One cant co-relate farmer suicides with drought. Farmer suicides have taken place because of debts and certain other factors, it will not escalate because of the drought. The EGoM has given as a 1,200 crore package but as I said, we need drinking water. Yes, the package will be helpful, but for me my main concern is basic drinking water that has to reach out to people. I have been told that people in villages have come out on the streets. It’s a grim picture, we too are facing this situation for the first time since 1972. We are trying our best to reach out to people. I have told my party workers and MLA’s to reach out to people, go to their constituencies, visit drought-affected regions and inform the people about the measures taken by the government. I have appealed to my workers to wipe the tears of drought-affected people.