Paying a heavy price for lack of water management, Maharashtra has spent at least Rs 13,000 crore on drought and flood relief between 2010 and 2014, which equals nearly 25 per cent of the state’s 2014-15 plan estimates of Rs 51,223 crore and works out to Rs 5,467 per household in the state which has a total of 2.38 crore households as per the latest census estimates.
This cost is expected to rise further this year with the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government claiming that an agricultural drought-like situation prevails in 19,059 villages. The state government has asked for a Central assistance of Rs 4,000 crore for relief.
While the state government has blamed three consecutive natural disasters – drought conditions in 2012-2013, which were followed by a spell of extreme rainfall and flooding between July and August 2013 and unseasonal rains and hailstorms between January and March 2014 – for the unprecedented strain on the state exchequer in its latest memorandum to the Centre for funding assistance, the CM admitted that lack of effective planning and water management was the main culprit.
But the most striking part is that no one in the government even knew the full amount spent on disaster relief, not even the state’s Relief and Rehabilitation Department, which oversees relief measures. The Indian Express had to contact different departments to garner the information.
“If we do not even know how much natural disasters are costing us in relief expenditure, how can we expect measures being taken for better planning and curbing such expenditure,” a senior official said.
Ironically, the government has not spent enough on drought mitigation measures such as soil and water conservation and fodder development programmes. Conceding this, Fadnavis said, “The previous Congress-NCP regime did not focus much on water management. Their approach was limited to spending on major dam projects. While such big ticket projects are required, these need to be balanced with water and soil management and conservation initiatives, which were overlooked.”
Fadnavis’s predecessor Prithviraj Chavan too had blamed inadequate water management for the crisis. “If there was better management, the amount spent on water and cattle camps could have been avoided and utilised for better purposes. We just lacked proper planning in facing the drought situation,” Chavan had told The Indian Express when he was the CM.
Between 2010 and 2014, the state spent Rs 2,783 crore to compensate farmers for crop damage owing to drought conditions. Another Rs 1,041 crore was spent in a similar compensation following damage due to extreme rainfall during the monsoon of 2013. Following the hailstorm between January and April 2014, the state disbursed another Rs 2636.35 crore in relief to affected farmers. An additional subsidy of Rs 2015 crore was given to cotton and soyabean farmers too.
Besides this, Maharashtra has spent another Rs 1,574 crore in providing water tankers to water-scarce areas and Rs 116 crore for fodder camps. While extending a 33 per cent subsidy in farmer’s electricity dues in drought-prone areas, the government incurred Rs 533 crore as expenditure. Under standing orders, schools fees for children in drought-prone areas are also waived off. As a relief measure, the government has restructured crop loans too.
Ironically, despite the large strain on the state exchequer, the amount directly reaching individual beneficiaries does not amount to much on account of an existing cap limiting the farm area for which aid is granted. For instance, between 2011 and 2013, the average relief granted to farmers for crop damage due to drought was just Rs 3,268.
While in opposition, BJP had constantly lobbied for relaxing the cap or increasing the per hectare grant-in-relief, but state officials now say this is not a workable option.