The state government is planning to bring in regulation to replace flood irrigation with drip irrigation in sugarcane farming to tackle the severe drought in Maharashtra.
The government also plans to make higher budgetary allocations in the Monsoon Session beginning June 19 to expand the scope of subsidies along with other incentives provided to farmers to shift from flood to drip irrigation.
“The recurring drought and depleting water levels in dams have prompted the government to resort to stern measures. While a ban on sugarcane farming is not the way out, tough policies are being planned to tackle the drought,” a source in the state water resources department said.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has urged the state finance department to work out the budget for subsidies to help farmers meet the additional expenditure on drip irrigation infrastructure.
A secretary in the water resources department said, “In flood irrigation, a thousand million metres (TMC) of water irrigate 4,000 hectares of crop. Whereas, one TMC water in drip irrigation covers 6,000 hectares.”
The cost of drip irrigation infrastructure is Rs 85,000 per hectare. However, once installed, the system works up to five years. With repairs or replacement of parts, it can work for many more years.
“The annual budget needed to move away from flood to drip in the sugar sector would be Rs 5,000 crore. Land under sugar cultivation in Maharashtra is 9.42 lakh hectares,” a source said.
Farmers’ leader Raju Shetti said, “Any policy that helps tackle the drought is welcome. But at the same time, the government should also provide financial incentives to small and marginal farmers to cope with the additional cost incurred on implementing drip irrigation.”
A secretary in the Maharashtra Water Regulatory Authority said, “Our entire focus in the last four and half years have been on creating more water storage structures. But we have no mechanism to check misuse of dam water. On paper we show highest priority is for drinking water. But there is no system to check or punish those exploiting dam water or even using river water in excess for cane cultivation in drought-prone districts of Maharashtra.”
Statistics from the state sugar commission office shows a steady rise in cane crushing from 2003-04 to 2017-18.
In 2003-04, 209.64 lakh metric tonnes of sugarcane were crushed. In 2006-07, it was 798.39 lakh metric tonnes. In 2010-11, it was 802.52 lakh metric tonnes. Between 2012-13 and 207-18, it has averaged at 750 lakh metric tonnes.