Nitin Pawar has been trying to come to terms with crop failure due to water scarcity for the last five years. “It has become a pattern. It starts raining in June and by the time we complete sowing rains stop. The rains return late in August but by then the crops are destroyed,” the farmer from Nivdunga village in Jalna said.
Pawar fears he might have to sell his two acres of non-irrigated land. He is unable to repay the Rs 2 lakh loan to a moneylender. “I was not able to repay crop loan last year. I was not eligible for a new loan from the cooperative and knocked at the moneylender’s door. I am not sure how I am going to repay him as this year also my crops have been destroyed,” he said. Once a success story, farms in Maharashtra are facing drought stress, even as a change in rain distribution is destroying crops.
RTI documents from the Department of Agriculture and Cooperatives show the state has been reporting more drought-affected areas than any other state for the last four years. Central assistance for drought relief was the highest in the last four years.
During 2011-12, farmland covering 31.11 lakh hectares was affected by drought, and in 2012-13 it reached 48.29 lakh hectares.
The state escaped drought in 2013-14 but 68.04 lakh hectares were declared drought hit in 2014-15. Drought prone Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan reported far less areas under drought.
The drought in Maharashtra is a result of climatic and manmade reasons. Amongst manmade reasons, incomplete irrigation projects and overutilization of irrigation resources for water guzzling crops like sugarcane, are some major reasons. Sustainable agriculture, and a change in cropping pattern are needed to ward of more severe droughts, experts warn.
Of the 225.56 lakh hectares of cultivable land in Maharashtra, 44.19 lakh hectares (20 per cent) are irrigated and the rest is rain-fed. In Maharashtra, 70 per cent of the irrigation resources are diverted to sugarcane, which accounts for just 9.4 per cent of the crop area.
This inequality has been pointed out by the Commissioner of Agricultural Costs and Prices. Areas under sugarcane and sugar mills have been increasing and 2014-15 saw 176 mills going for cane crushing, the highest in 10 years. Over the years, area of sugarcane cultivation has grown by 10 per cent, mostly in drought prone Marathwada.
Worldwide climate change has affected rainfall pattern. Mean rainfall remains the same but distribution has changed. Pulak Guhathakurta, head of department of hydrology, India Meteorological Department, said that over the years, Maharashtra has been facing short spells of heavy rain rather than well distributed rains over the four months of monsoon. Seasonality Index, he said, was based on monthly distribution.
‘’This index helps us measure monthly rainfall distribution and a high value shows increased rains in some months, a low value shows equal distribution in four months of monsoon. A low value is preferred for agriculture, a high value results in more surface run-off,” he said.
Guhathakurta said almost all districts reported an increase in this index. Another factor has been increase in days of heavy rainfall and a decrease in ‘’rainy’’ days.
“Heavy rainfall days are when there is more than 6.5 cm rain while rainy days are days when it rains between 2.4 mm and 6.5 cm. While the latter allows for recharging of aquifers, heavy rainfall results in surface run-off.
Overall rains are same, but change in pattern is worrisome,” he said.
Change in pattern has been studied by Ramchandra Sable, the state government’s agrimet consultant, studying drought in Maharashtra since 2003. Sable said, ‘’I noticed a drastic change in pattern. Normally monsoon rainfall is supposed to spread over 16 weeks but now the whole precipitation happens in three weeks. This results in very heavy rainfall in a short span of time, which is devastating for agriculture,” he said.
This is not good news for the 90 lakh small and marginal farmers (70 per cent of the total land holding). More than 600 farmers have committed suicide in the state over the last few months.
Successive state governments earmarked substantial budgets for irrigation but mismanagement stalled growth. Aam Aadmi Party leader Anjali Damania, was one of those who alleged a scam and filed a public interest litigation against former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and some other NCP leaders.
As of 2013, there were 601 incomplete projects despite Rs 82,609 crore being spent. A performance audit showed 225 were under execution for more than 15 years and 77 were under execution for more than 30 years.
‘’Instead of allowing water to seep in to increase the water table, the large dams resulted in more evaporation. Most unfinished projects are in Marathwada,’’ she said.
Water management expert Parineete Dandekar said the state needs a climate change action plan. “The challenges call for a plan on utilising resources and putting to use Maharashtra’s huge irrigation infrastructure which lies incomplete,’’ she said.