The state government has decided to make drip irrigation mandatory across Maharashtra in an attempt to manage cultivation at a time of recurring drought. The government provides subsidy to farmers who adopt the drip irrigation method and is likely to provide 20 per cent more than the current amount. Now, Rs 800 crore is provided in terms of subsidy.
To begin with, all water-intensive crops will have to be shifted under drip irrigation for which the government is bringing low-cost technology that would be affordable by farmers with small and medium land holding.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “Among the various drought mitigation plans that are underway, the government is going to make drip irrigation mandatory for all higher water-intensive crops, including sugar cane.” He added: “The scheme ‘more crop per drop’ cannot remain a mere slogan. It has not elicited the desired participation at the grassroots.”
In 2017-18, the area under sugar cane production increased to 9.02 lakh hectare and around 20 lakh farmers are currently engaged in the production. In 2009-2010, the area under cultivation was 7.53 lakh hectare and 16.78 lakh farmers were engaged. Data shows that currently only 3.5 lakh farmers growing sugar cane have adopted the drip irrigation method.
According to the state economic survey, in 2016-17, the area under drip irrigation was 1.33 lakh hectare and sprinkler irrigation was 45 thousand hectare. The total expenditure on subsidies for drip and sprinkler irrigation was Rs 575.27 crore. In the current fiscal, the government has allocated Rs 800 crore as subsidy for drip and sprinkler irrigation. In 2015-16, the area under drip irrigation was 1.02 lakh hectare and sprinkler irrigation was 33,898 hectare and the expenditure was Rs 445.98 crore.
Of the total 355 talukas in the state, drought has been declared in 151 talukas recently.
Water management expert Madhav Chitale said: “The foremost decision that the government should enforce strictly is to impose a ban on sugar cane cultivation in the drought-hit Marathwada region. If we allow sugar cane in the region where rain fall is minimal, how can we combat drought? Scientific method of farming, including drip irrigation, is necessary to economise the use of water in the rain-shadow regions.”
The government’s decision to provide a crop alternative to sugar cane in eight districts of Marathwada had evoked mixed response. Former district collector of Osmanabad Prashant Narnawre said: “We had launched a project — Beyond Sugar cane — in Osmanabad between 2014 and 2016. We succeeded in bringing down the area of sugar cane cultivation from 42 hectare to 25 hectare. But, along with crop alternatives, we had also carried out Jalyukta Shivar projects. This led to surplus water in 2016-17. As a result, farmers reverted to cane cultivation.”
Narnawre, who is now the collector of Palghar district, said: “Since sugar cane is a cash crop, it has assured returns. It provides certainty. Secondly, Solapur that has the highest number of sugar mills (30) helps farmers, as there is always demand for sugar cane grown in Osmanabad.”
An official in the water conservation department said: “Water structures, like farm ponds and irrigation wells, have helped the farmers cultivate sugar cane in the drought-prone districts of Marathwada.”