Nagpur/Mumbai: As the most severe drought in nearly half a century has gripped parts of Maharashtra, politicians, especially from the ruling combine, are worried over its ramifications in the Lok Sabha elections.
The drought, which has ravaged the central Marathwada region and surroundings, caps three years of almost failed Monsoon, causing rural migration to urban centres, looming food shortage and distress sale of cattle in villages. All these have simply aggravated the agrarian crisis, say experts and officials.
Predicting a disastrous political fallout, All Indian Kisan Sabha (AIKS) President Ashok Dhawale said the ruling BJP has failed to fulfil it's 2014 promises of complete farm loan waiver, implementation of the M.S. Swaminathan Commission report and the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY).
"Despite the drought, Maharashtra has done little to strengthen the MNREGA, make adequate provisions for water and fodder, and now people also face food shortage.
"The same mood prevails among the rural folks that led to the BJP's rout in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh last December," warned Dhawale.
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine has declared drought in around 24,000 villages across 180 tehsils, where over 50 per cent of the state's 16 million farmers (1.60 crore) have been badly hit.
"The government is seized of the seriousness. Efforts are on to ensure sufficient water and fodder supply in these areas. So far, we have sanctioned 109 cattle camps, and more shall be opened soon, Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner Sunil Kendrekar told IANS.
He said field surveys are being conducted in all affected districts of the region by collectors and other senior officials. More cattle camps would be set up once the survey data is analysed, he added.
To back the efforts, the state government announced on Tuesday that the capacity of each camp would be raised from 500 to 3,000 cattle, Kendrekar added.
Of the over 2,500 water tankers plying in the affected areas, around 1,400 are operating in the Marathwada region alone. The rest are being used in Aurangabad, Beed and Jalna districts.
On the reports of distress sale of cattle by farmers in Bhoom, Osmanabad district, (according to a private website), Kendrekar said he would enquire into it.
An Osmanabad official said fodder camps were mostly required in areas where cattle owners were engaged in milk production, besides farming.
Said leading activist and the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) Chairman Kishore Tiwari, "I have learnt of a few cases of distress sale of cattle in the Beed and Nanded districts. But they need to be verified. Such sales may take place at the weekly markets in various tehsils. They are difficult to track. The reasons could also vary," Tiwari told IANS.
According to grassroots activists and groups, many farmers are abandoning their aged cattle in forests as they cannot feed them and provide water.
"With depleting resources, farmers can't afford to keep these cattle. They cannot sell them due to the stringent rules in the state and fears of reprisal from parties like Bajrang Dal. Thus, they abandon them in forests at nature's mercy," Tiwari said.
He also criticised the government for its failure to expedite setting up of cattle camps despite it being clear even before the monsoon season ended in September 2018 that a drought was a certainty.
"It (no measures on time) has further irked villagers and farmers despite this being the third consecutive year of drought. Acute water shortage, failed crops, unfulfilled government assurances on loan waivers, etc, have added to the agrarian distress," Tiwari - who is accorded a Minister status - said without mincing words.
A senior government official said the state government has spent around Rs 150 crore over supplying water through tankers. It could rise nearly four times to Rs 600 crore before monsoon 2019 sets in, the official added.
The government has asked collectors in the drought-hit regions to submit reports on water supply daily and implement the projects related to water availability that are stuck due to minor issues.
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