20,000 Maharashtra villages may soon run out of water, staring at drought

Mumbai: Nearly half of Maharashtra’s villages are running out of water, perhaps even staring at drought, as they received lower rainfall this monsoon. The scarcity may get worse as water sources dry up.
The state government said it was assessing the situation and will likely declare drought in the worst-hit villages by the end of this month.
Water is scarce in at least 20,000 of the state’s 40,559 villages across 201 tehsils as they received less than 75% of the average required rainfall. The state government said it was assessing the situation in all these villages and is in the process of declaring drought, which may take around two weeks. Until then, it is likely to declare a “drought-like situation” to enable it to start putting relief measures in place.
On Tuesday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis asked his council of ministers to visit the affected tehsils and submit reports on the ground situation to a cabinet sub-committee on drought by October 30. He also empowered the panel, headed by relief and rehabilitation minister Chandrakant Patil, to take a decision on what measures are needed to mitigate the effects of drought.
“I have asked the ministers to visit all tehsils affected by water scarcity,” Fadnavis told reporters at Mantralaya, the state headquarters, after the meeting of council of ministers. “Each minister may have to visit three or four tehsils and submit reports to the state government. The state will then take a decision over declaring drought, by October 31,” he said.
Patil said the government’s initial estimate of the number of affected villages stands at 100 villages from each of the 201 tehsils. “We will declare a drought-like situation in the next eight days in the affected areas so relief measures can be started. Drought will be declared after that,” he said on Tuesday.
The last time the state faced a similar water scarcity was in 2016, when 28,662 of the 40,559 villages (around 70%) were declared drought-hit. At the time, the Vidarbha region, comprising Nagpur and Amravati revenue divisions, and Marathwada, were hit the worst. This time, 12 districts in Marathwada and north Maharashtra are faced with drought. These include Aurangabad, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna, Nanded, Latur, Osmanabad, Parbhani, Dhule, Nandurbar, Ahmednagar and Jalgaon.
Currently, 354 tankers have been deployed to supply water to affected areas. Of them, 198 tankers go to Marathwada alone;125 tankers have been deployed to north Maharashtra, according to figures from the state water supply and sanitation department. The state will soon need to deploy more tankers to supplying water, said a senior official, requesting not to be names.
According to fresh rules under the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF), to get financial assistance for drought mitigation from the Centre, the state can declare drought in affected areas based on a report of the National Centre for Crop Forecasting (NCCF) — a forecast agency that works under Union agriculture ministry, and ground-truthing (GT) in 10% of the total affected villages which need to be selected randomly. GT is the verification of the situation in the drought-hit areas.
The relief and rehabilitation minister, however, said if 20,000 villages were reeling under a water crisis, it doesn’t mean all of them will be declared drought-hit. “The number may decrease or it may remain the same. Everything depends upon the NCCF report and ground-truthing,” Patil said.
Professor HM Desarda, agriculture economist and former member of the state planning commission said that this is not a natural but man-made disaster. “Most of the tehsils have received more than 60% rainfall which is adequate enough to ensure drinking water and irrigation for a crop season. But the successive governments in Maharashtra have failed to do drought-proofing which led to the situation. For every 100 mm of rain, we get average a million litre water on each hectare and barring few tehsils all the others have received rainfall between 300 to 500 mm,” Desarda said.

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