Even as Maharashtra grapples with a massive water shortage, the state of Chhattisgarh too has been reeling under its own drought. The scale of crisis may be lower than in Marathwada, but the situation is grave all the same. The drought, and relief measures dominated much of the Assembly session in the state vidhan sabha in March, with the Congress relentlessly attacking the Raman Singh government on the plight of farmers in the state.
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The government, on its part, focused much of its attention in the state budget to the agriculture sector. The CM announced that Rs 223 crore had been set aside for drought relief for farmers in a state where 117 tehsils in 26 districts have been declared drought hit while another Rs 150 crore has been set aside for seeds. And even as complaints of faults in compensation distribution have begun to pour in, the collectors in each district have been put in charge of distribution of finances to affected farmers. The state also brought the drought into the aegis of “natural calamity”, increasing the compensation due to those affected, and has brought in subsidiary relief schemes like the Kanya Vivah Yojana, where the state bears the cost for weddings in these areas.
Yet, on the ground, there is much evidence of dissatisfaction based on several factors. The first reason, that has found resonance for several years is the promise of a paddy bonus that was made in the BJP election manifesto when they were voted to power. Yet, the bonus has not been given for the past two years, with the opposition claiming that this was purely an “electoral gimmick”. Secondly, the state government has shown a reluctance to admit that farmer suicides are taking place in the state, and have been over the past few years. In November last year, the state agriculture minister kicked up a storm claiming that there had been no farming related death in the past few years. In March however. the state government admitted that there have been 309 deaths in the past three years. The opposition and farmers groups allege that there have been over a hundred this year alone.
Akin to other places in the country, there have been demands to shift the 2 IPL matches scheduled to be held in Raipur, which the government has refused to do. Amit Jogi, expelled from the Congress pending appeal has also raised the issue of increasing MLA wages at a time when the state is suffering a drought. Yet experts say that while all of these are politically beneficial stances, the primary focus of the state government must be to ensure that another year of water shortage doesn’t bring the state to a standstill. They say that in terms of long term measures, the approach must include a focus on irrigation in a state where the distribution network is low. While the state government has allocated upwards of Rs 2000 crore in the state budget for the purpose, the efficacy of plans that are made by the government will dictate the future.