Central team to tour Marathwada to study drought impact

This is the third visit by a central team since December 2014 though no central aid has come by so far

Mumbai: A central government team will visit parts of Marathwada in Maharashtra on 20-21 November to study the impact of drought. This is the third visit by a central team since December 2014 though no central aid has come by so far, a Maharashtra agriculture department official said.

The opposition Congress in the state has termed it as “drought tourism" and demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit the state instead of sending a study team. Maharashtra has demanded an assistance of 4,000 crore from the centre for drought relief. Since December 2014, the state has spent around 2,000 crore from its kitty and the State Disaster Relief Fund, officials said.

In October, the Maharashtra government declared drought in 20 districts, or 14,708 villages of the state. An overwhelming majority of these are in Marathwada, which is largely dry-land. Parts of the Vidarbha region are also drought-affected. Marathwada and Vidarbha account for roughly 80% of the state’s total cotton and soyabean yields.

This week, the state submitted a memorandum to the centre, seeking assistance of 4,000 crore. Maharashtra agriculture minister Eknath Khadse told Mint that assistance was for drought-mitigation measures and it will cover compensation and crop insurance components.

Leader of the opposition in the state assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, however, said the state has been “quoting" this figure since December 2014. “How long does it take the centre to make its assessment and release funds? Instead of any real help coming by, we are getting visits of the study team which is nothing but drought tourism," Vikhe-Patil said.

He demanded that PM Modi stop his international visits and spend some time among farmers in Maharashtra. The Congress plans to raise the issue again in the upcoming winter session of the state legislature starting on 7 December in Nagpur.

Nashik-based farm economy expert Ashwini Kulkarni, who runs a rural development NGO called Pragati Abhiyan, questioned the very model the government uses to measure drought and declare relief. According to her, the bureaucratic procedure to send central government teams was highly politicized and unscientific.

“Drought is a natural calamity that merits a scientific and not political model to measure its impact. To depute a government team is an archaic and political way of measuring drought. We need to have a drought-measuring index that gives us accurate data and helps government form its strategy to mitigate drought. Instead, what we have is a very unscientific and political system to study drought which offers only relief measures and not permanent ways to mitigate the impact of this calamity," Kulkarni said.

She, however, described the state government’s water conservation programme as one of the successful long-term measures. She also welcomed a greater allocation under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that would provide 150 days of work instead of the national norm of 100 days in a year to at least one member of every rural household.

Vidarbha-based farm activist Vijay Jawandhiya said no central team had visited Vidarbha in 2015 to study drought.

“It is a half-hearted measure but Vidarbha has not got even that from the centre. The drinking water situation may not be as acute as in Marathwada but there is a serious drop in cotton and soya bean yields. Modi came to power blaming the Manmohan Singh government for the farm crisis but his government has hardly done anything of substance for farmers in Vidarbha. Farmers are deeply disappointed with Modi," Jawandhiya said.

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