Sugarcane and banana growers in “notified” groundwater-stressed areas of Maharashtra may soon require permission to plant these crops.
The draft Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Rules, 2018 — for which the Devendra Fadnavis government has invited comments — states that any farmer intending to cultivate a crop which is “water-intensive” will have to apply to a Watershed Water Resources Committee (WWRC) 30 days before the sowing period of the crop.
The WWRC — it is headed by the chairman of the concerned taluka/block-level panchayat samiti and with members that include the block development officer, elected representatives of the district/zilla parishad, and officials from the water supply and sanitation, agriculture and animal husbandry departments — will then consult the senior district geologist of the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency (GSDA).
Based on that, the committee shall “communicate, within thirty days from the date of receipt of application, in writing to the applicant, about its decision regarding acceptance or refusal. for cultivation of (the) water-intensive crop”.
Earlier this month, the Maharashtra government made purchase of any farm commodity below the official minimum support price (MSP) by even a private trader an offence attracting a one-year jail term and a fine of Rs 50,000.
The draft rules for groundwater mandate the grower to furnish an undertaking “that he will use micro-irrigation methods” for growing the water-intensive crop. Incidentally, the rules do not explicitly mention the crops that are “water-intensive”. Nor is there any definition of the “notified areas”, where these cropping restrictions would apply.
GSDA officials told The Indian Express that sugarcane and banana would fit the definition of “water-intensive” crops. They said the original Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act of 2009 — under which the draft rules have been made — was also silent on this. “We may have to seek further clarification from the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Aurangabad or the state agricultural universities,” they noted.
As regards “notified areas”, the officials said that these would basically refer to those watersheds — Maharashtra has 1,531 of them — that are categorised as over-exploited or critical, where the rates of groundwater extraction exceed annual recharge level.
There are 80 such watersheds in Maharashtra, which include 13 in Ahmednagar, 12 in Jalgaon, 11 in Nashik, nine in Amravati, seven each in Pune, Solapur and Latur, six in Sangli, three in Osmanabad, two in Buldhana, and one each in Satara, Aurangabad and Jalna. While Jalgaon is India’s largest banana-growing district, the others (barring Buldhana and Amravati) have major sugarcane-growing tracts.
The draft rules have proposed that district officers of the agriculture department be assigned the task of preparing cropping plans for the “notified areas” in consultation with the WWRCs. Such plans should take into account the cropping pattern of the area as per the agro-climatic zone in which it is located, the average water consumption for each crop as determined by WALMI, the precipitation levels in the previous hydrological cycle, and the GSDA’s assessment.
The agriculture department “shall make all possible combination of crops that could be cultivated within the notified area until the total water requirement of all the crops in a given season is less than or is equal to groundwater available for that season”. In the event water-intensive crops are grown, the area under them will not be allowed to “exceed the area of the (same) crops taken in the previous year”. The farmer, in this case, will have to seek special permission from the WWRC/GSDA, while “mentioning the name of the crop and the area to be cultivated, along with the payment of fees as decided by the State Groundwater Authority, if any”.
Raju Shetti, farmer leader and Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangale constituency that includes Kolhapur district, criticised the rules, claiming these will add one more layer of bureaucracy and promote rent-seeking.
“The government seems to want to extend ease-of-doing-business for everybody, except the farmer. Farmers plant sugarcane and banana only because these are crops that give some return. If the government wants to wean farmers away from them, they should make other crops financially rewarding enough,” he said.
GSDA officials said that the deadline for inviting objections and suggestions to the draft rules is August 31, but “we might extend them till end-September”.