The state government will conduct a water audit to formulate a comprehensive policy to plug misuse of water by the private sector in districts reeling under a drinking water crisis. Water availability in dams/rivers and crop pattern in drought-prone districts across Maharashtra will be mapped to make course corrections in water supply. Strict water audit in 14 drought-hit districts is on the cards.
The government will bring in stringent rules to make drip irrigation mandatory for all water intensive crops, including sugarcane. Acknowledging that drinking water has to be given highest priority, a restructuring of lifting of water from dams by the sugar mills using barrages specially in critical districts like Latur, Osmanabad, Beed, Solapur is being done. At present, there are 202 cooperative sugar mills apart from 64 private mills. Drip irrigation is expected to increase yield and prevent wastage of water from dams and rivers availed by sugar mills.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asserted, “Apart from jalyukta shivar project to generate higher water storing capacity, effective management of water is more significant.” At the drought review meeting, he said, “Whether it is through wider use of drip irrigation for all water intensive crops or plugging misuse of water which is drawn for cane but leaves the villagers thirsty, the government will come out with a comprehensive plan.”
While the government acknowledges that they will not enforce any ban on any crop, it cannot allow exploitation of water for cultivation of sugarcane without water budget.
Statistics revealed by the department of water resources and agriculture indicate 70 percent sugar mills violate rules and lift huge quantity of water from dams and rivers. The switch to drip irrigation will have to be made stringent.
Minister of State for Water Conservation Vijay Shivtare, representing the Shiv Sena argued, “At Latur, water supply is once in 21 days. Even during monsoon water supply is once in eight to ten days. Yet, there are several sugar mills prospering with highest production of cane and sugar.”
He said, “At Latur, sugar mills directly lift water from Manjara river and dam to their fullest capacity. As a result, it leads to shortage of water for drinking purposes.” He said, “Today, Latur with 5 lakh population is demanding Rs 700 crore for bringing water to city from Ujjani dam. There is no water shortage in Manjara dam and river. We have to set our priorities and plan for public at large and not serve only sugar mills’ interest. We have to first store water for drinking purpose and then use the rest for sugar cane.
But exactly the opposite is happening in Latur.”
All district collectors have been asked to work out a plan on the water audit along with restricting its use for domestic, agriculture and industry. All drought districts have several sugar mills. Solapur tops with 32 mills.
Fadnavis said at the internal meeting, “While government is pursuing the policy and projects to make the state self reliant in water, it cannot overlook the immediate concerns of people. Moreover, a drought-free Maharashtra in 2019 will require scientific water management.”
Based on geographical conditions in every district, the ministry of agriculture is evolving multi-crops with shorter cycle to facilitate quick returns with less water utility. Osmanabad district which receives an average rain less than 450 mm, has started looking at lucrative crops/ horticulture farming to replace cane cultivation. Instead of 12-14 months cycle for sugar cane, farmers in small groups are experimenting with horticulture which is equally remunerative.
As district collector Prashant Narnavre said, “ If the returns are high, farmers are willing to experiment with new crops specially in rain shadow areas.”
Taking up the centre’s special drive to promote pulses and oilseeds, the state government wants farmers to avail schemes to the optimum. Both pulses and oilseeds require lesser water compared to cane.
The processing of one kg sugar, from cultivation to crushing, requires 3,500 litres of water. However, unlike pulses and oilseeds, cane growing is less risky as it ensures assured returns and can sustain a gap of 15 to 20 days without water.