The state government will bring all water-intensive crops under drip irrigation in the next three years. However, there are financial implications in the way as sugar mills have urged the government to stand guarantor for loans it seeks from banks for investment in drip infrastructure.
Notwithstanding the financial hurdles, the Centre and the state are all set to make drip irrigation a compulsion, as part of the long-term drought mitigation policy.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “There is no alternative to drip irrigation for all high water-intensive crops. To begin with, we will have to make drip irrigation mandatory for sugarcane crops.”
All studies by government on water management recommended that all water-intensive crops/horticulture, including sugarcane, bananas, grapes should be brought under drip irrigation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after a drought meeting with the chief minister, had observed, “I have stressed on vitality of increasing water use efficiently through sprinkler and drip irrigation, including in sugarcane cultivation.”
A senior cabinet minister said, “Despite the necessity, we have to adopt flexibility. We will extend subsidies upto 50 to 75 per cent to small and marginal farmers from backward category who switch over to drip irrigation to enable them to sustain the additional expenditure.” Sugar mills are not seeking direct subsidies. But they have urged the state government to stand guarantor for bank loans they would seek for investments in drip infrastructure.
However, the ministry of finance is not very keen on making immediate commitments. As sources said, “Rs 4,000 crore support to farmers for drip irrigation is not viable in the long run.”
At present, less than 20 per cent of sugarcane growers have adopted drip irrigation. The chief minister indicated that various research institutes and collaborations with Israel can pave the way for adapting a more economical model for drip irrigation in rural Maharashtra. Former minister for cooperation, Harshvarshan Patil, said, “I fully support the state government’s initiative for making drip irrigation compulsory for sugarcane crops. We have to go for better water management.”
The results from drip irrigation, compiled by the state government across districts reeling under drought, show that drip irrigation, along with protected farming yielded higher and better crop. The higher expense in drip infrastructure is easily recovered through dividends from higher production.
The agriculture department is playing a crucial role to provide logistical and technological support to farmers’ groups ready to experiment in drought prone districts in Vidarbha and Marathwada.