MUMBAI : The Maharashtra government on Tuesday decided to implement a programme to provide assured and protected irrigation in 251 rain-fed talukas hit by chronic drought, farmers’ suicides, and Left-wing extremism.

The Mukhyamantri Shashwat Krushi Sinchan Yojana (Chief Minister’s Assured Agriculture Irrigation Scheme), with a budget of 450 crore for the 2019-20 financial year, received the state cabinet’s approval on Tuesday.

An official at chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ office, who requested anonymity, said the programme follows the Narendra Modi government’s emphasis on solving India’s water crisis and doubling farmers’ income by 2022.

The official pointed out that the kin of those farmers who have committed suicides, widows, and rural women who are farmers will be given priority when selecting the beneficiaries under the scheme.

“Some parts of this scheme would dovetail with the Centre’s programme to provide protected and guaranteed irrigation to those parts of India which are reeling under agrarian crisis mainly due to poor irrigation coverage. Especially, those districts in Maharashtra that the Centre has placed in the category of Naxal-insurgency affected would benefit from this scheme," said the official.

In October last year, the Fadnavis government declared medium to severe drought in more than 20,000 villages. By May this year, the number of drought-hit villages had risen to more than 25,000.

Maharashtra has a little more than 40,000 census-registered villages. Of the 251 talukas selected for the implementation of this scheme, 149 are in chronic drought and rain-deficit zones. The government has also included talukas in all eight districts of the Marathwada region and six in Vidarbha—the two most critical regions in terms of poor irrigation coverage and the agrarian crisis. These two regions, in particular Marathwada, account for nearly 80% of those villages where the state government has declared drought. By June end this year, water levels in Marathwada dams had dropped to less than 8% of installed capacity, forcing the state government to supply drinking water to 5,000 villages by tankers every day.

In addition, the irrigation programme would also be extended to the areas where Naxal insurgency has been most intense. “The scheme would be implemented in Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, and Gondia districts which face the Naxal insurgency and where the twin problems of dense forests and Left-wing extremism have stalled irrigation projects," said the official quoted above.

Under the scheme, farmers will be given a direct subsidy equal to 50% of the actual cost, up to a maximum 75,000, to install plastic lining in their farm ponds; a matching grant from the state government equal to the subsidy provided by the Centre under the Prime Minister’s ‘more crop per drop’ programme; and a subsidy of 1 lakh per beneficiary to build a 1,000 square metre greenhouse or shade-net up. “Farmers can opt for all of these elements under the scheme or those which are necessary in that particular location," the official said.

Though Maharashtra has the largest number of large dams in the country—1,845 or nearly 42% of the largest dams in India—it has one of the poorest percentages of realised irrigation potential. Only 18% of the cultivable land in Maharashtra has access to irrigation. In other words, of the total 22.5 million hectares of cultivable land in Maharashtra, nearly 82% is rain-fed and without access to the irrigation facility, an official at the state’s agriculture department said.

“Our agricultural productivity takes a hit when the rainfall drops below normal. There is a direct correlation between irrigation and agriculture productivity," the official said requesting anonymity.


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