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Photo: Rajanish Kakade/Hindustan Times
Photo: Rajanish Kakade/Hindustan Times

Maharashtra adds 11,962 villages to drought list in Vidarbha region

Of the 11,962 villages, 5,810 are in the cotton-growing Amravati division, which has also reported the bulk of farm suicides in Vidarbha

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government has declared drought in 11,962 villages in Vidarbha region, taking the total number of villages to be declared drought-hit to 27,723, nearly half of the 43,000 villages in the state.

Of the 11,962 villages, 5,810 are in the cotton-growing Amravati division, which has also reported the bulk of farm suicides in Vidarbha. The remaining 6,052 villages are in Nagpur division where the major crops are cotton, soybean and paddy.

In October, the state declared drought in 14,708 villages, mainly in three regions—Marathwada, North Maharashtra and Khandesh. In early March, the state added 1,053 villages in Ahmednagar and Solapur districts to the drought-affected list.

In 2015, Marathwada and Vidarbha together accounted for 2,428 farm suicides, as per government statistics.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the Vidarbha drought was different from the ‘hydrological’ drought in Marathwada, the region which has been most severely hit by water shortage.

“The drought in Vidarbha is more of an agriculture drought and not hydrological. In Marathwada, it is both agriculture and hydrological," he said, adding the government has allocated 1,000 crore for immediate relief measures in these villages and that more funds would be provided after assessment of losses.

“The relief measures will be taken as per the standard operating procedures in drought zones. We will also request the central government for assistance," Fadnavis added.

The centre has so far released 3,050 crore to Maharashtra, the largest drought relief given to any state by the National Democratic Alliance government.

The government’s declaration of drought in Vidarbha follows a judgement by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on 18 March, which criticized the government’s “callous and indifferent" approach towards distressed farmers in Vidarbha.

The ruling came in response to a public interest litigation which challenged the government’s decision not to put more than 6,000 villages in four Vidarbha districts in the drought-hit category despite the government’s own officials reporting more than 50% crop failure in these villages.

The government argued that these villages did not meet the deficient rainfall criteria essential for declaring drought. The court asked the government to immediately declare drought in these villages and start implementing relief measures.

The National Commission on Agriculture, under the Union farm ministry, has classified three types of drought: meteorological, agrarian, and hydrological. Meteorological drought occurs when there is significant decrease from normal precipitation levels over a particular area or region. Hydrological drought is a consequence of prolonged phases of meteorological droughts which cause depletion in surface and sub-surface water table.

The India Meteorological Department declares the meteorological drought but the other two types of droughts are assessed and declared by district collectors in their submissions to their state governments.

A state agriculture department official who requested not to be named said the Vidarbha drought has been declared despite the villages not exactly meeting the drought norms set by the government. “Two broad criteria are used by state governments across the country to decide if there are drought conditions. First criterion is less than 25% of that area’s long-term average rainfall. The second prerequisite is if the crop yield in a particular area is less than 50%, a procedure popularly known as paisevari in Maharashtra," the official said adding that more than 90% of the 11,962 villages in Vidarbha did not meet both the criteria.

“A large majority of these villages received nearly 75% of their average rainfall in 2015 and more than 50% crop yields. In fact, the economic survey shows an estimated increase of about 17% in Maharashtra’s cotton yield in 2015-16 which means Vidarbha, where cotton is the main cash crop, has done well here," the official said.

He compared Vidarbha’s situation with that of Marathwada where in October 2015 the government placed 8,522 villages in the drought zone. “There was an estimated 21% drop in sugarcane yield in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra in 2015-16.

Fadnavis told the legislative assembly last week that the government had not declared drought in Vidarbha because the region did not meet the norms set by the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). “However the state government is committed to providing relief and we will override the NDRF norms to declare drought," Fadnavis had said responding to the opposition’s demand to declare drought in Vidarbha.

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