Maharashtra struggles to cope with impending drought

July 17th, 2008 - 10:29 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

Mumbai, July 17 (IANS) With the rains playing truant and the threat of a drought looming large over Maharashtra, the state government has warned people in major cities to brace themselves for severe water shortage in the coming days. The government announced measures to combat the situation, including digging of 35,000 new wells and grant of Rs.3.5 billion to carry out Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) projects in the scarcity-hit talukas (sub-districts) in the state.

Last week, the government declared 164 out of 355 talukas as ’scarcity-hit’ owing to failure of rains.

The announcements were made Thursday by three state ministers - Ajit Pawar, Harshavardhan Patil and Balasaheb Thort - during a marathon two-day discussion in the state legislative assembly on the drought-like situation.

Water Resources Minister Ajit Pawar said that water supply, irrigation and power generation are facing a crisis. “Since water levels in the large dams have gone down to about 20 percent, we have issued instructions to utilize this water strictly for drinking purpose in surrounding villages and the rest to be diverted for use in cities,” he said.

Expressing hope that the rains may still arrive, Pawar said that efforts are on to conserve water in small dams in a manner to ensure supply till June 2009. He added that since water reserves have depleted, even power generation has come down.

State Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshavardhan Patil said that the government would immediately grant Rs.3.5 billion to provide unskilled employment in the worst-hit talukas.

“The government will ensure that there are at least five wells in each taluka so that there is no water shortage,” he added.

Patil sanctioned the digging of 35,000 new wells, each costing Rs.100,000 and the amount would be further hiked, if necessary.

Since Wednesday, when the monsoon session of the assembly started, the state opposition has cornered the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Democratic Front over the impending drought issue.

The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party opposition has been vociferously demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh for what it termed as “inept handling” of the current crisis.

On Wednesday, the state got bad news of monsoon failing till July 15 in half of the state’s 35 districts. The government said that only four districts - all falling in the Konkan belt along the Arabian Sea - have received adequate rainfall during the current monsoon season.

This has directly hit the peak sowing season in 1.28 billion hectares of farmlands spread across the state. So far, sowing has been taken up in only 48 percent of the farming areas, the government said.

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