This year’s drought cannot be called worse than the one in 1972: SANDRP

While the Maharashtra government is crying hoarse about this year’s drought surpassing the one in 1972 and farmers are cutting off their crops and digging deeper than ever for water, an analysis based on rainfall patterns blames it on poor long-term vision and unequal water distribution.

With 3,712 major, minor and medium projects, Maharashtra has the highest number of dams in the country; yet its irrigation coverage was 17.9 per cent in 2009-10. Its projects are plagued with delays and cost overruns, and a special team headed by Madhav Chitale is investigating them.

The Maharashtra Economic Survey 2012-13, does not give any figure for irrigated area, saying it is not available. Last year, this same figure had created a furore, since it had increased by a mere 0.1 per cent from 2000-01 when it was 17.8 per cent, after a decade-long expenditure of nearly Rs 70,000 crore.

Questioning the severity of the drought and the government’s claims, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), in its analysis, says that while the 1972 drought could be called a natural calamity, the 2012-13 drought is a disaster of water management, accompanied by corruption, water-intensive cropping patterns and absence of a long-term view to manage water and drought.

The analysis states that a comparison of rainfall figures and the monthly rainfall pattern in 1972 and 2012 with respect to the normal rainfall pattern in 17 drought-affected districts shows a different picture. From a meteorological and agricultural point of view, this year’s drought cannot be called worse than that in 1972. Though it is possible that hydrologically, this year’s drought may prove to be worse than 1972 in some districts.

SANDRP says the blame lies squarely on building unviable large dams, wrong cropping patterns, water diversion for non-priority uses, neglect of local water systems and unaccountable water management by the State government, the Centre and the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), set up in 2005.

In the 40 years since 1972, Maharashtra has built a large number of big dams in drought-prone areas. However, the storage levels are plummeting; it is down to 30 per cent now, with 10 per cent in Marathwada as on March 25. SANDRP says that one reason for lack of water is the area under sugarcane, which was 1,67,000 hectares in 1970-71, going up to 10,22,000 hectares in 2011-12 (as per the Survey). At the post-budget press conference, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar conceded that 70 per cent of the water went to sugarcane cultivation. Add to this diversion of water for drinking, and the dams have little left for farming.

SANDRP says the drought-prone districts, for instance Solapur, Pune, Ahmednagar, Sangli, Satara, Osmanabad, Beed, Latur, Nashik, Jalna, Parbhani and Aurangabad, account for 79.5 per cent of sugar produced in the State. According to the Survey, “As on 31 st December, 2012, out of the total sugar production in the country, the share of the State was 35.3 per cent.” So the drought-prone districts produce more than a quarter of India’s sugar.

It slams the government for not making any attempt to curb either planting of sugarcane or other water-intensive crops or to curb any of the water-intensive activities like running of sugar and wine factories in drought-affected districts. Builders continued to advertise sale of houses attached with swimming pools in the affected areas.

The analysis compared the rainfall figures of 1972 and 2012, from June to October, for the 17 districts mentioned as drought-affected: Ahmednagar, Pune, Solapur, Sangli, Satara, Aurangabad, Beed, Jalna, Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Akola, Parbhani, Buldhana, Nashik, Dhule and Jalgaon.

In June 2012, eight districts had monthly rainfall less than half the normal. In July 2012, no district showed a deficit rainfall of more than 50 per cent. In August 2012, the deficit was more than 50 per cent in Aurangabad, Jalna and Osmanabad (these districts also experienced over 50 per cent deficit in June). This was the case for only Jalna in September 2012 and for Dhule and Jalgaon in October 2012. It seems from this comparison that Aurangabad, Jalna and Osmanabad are some of the worst-affected districts this year.

In comparison, the number of districts that faced more than 50 per cent deficit in monthly rainfall in 1972 was three in June, nine in July, nine in August, six in September and all 17 in October 1972. This comparison for the number of districts facing over 50 per cent deficit in monsoon months clearly indicates that the 1972 rainfall was much lower than the 2012 rainfall for every month, with the exception of June.

Only in two districts (Sangli and Dhule) is the 2012 rainfall substantially lower than that in 1972. In two other districts (Jalna and Satara), the rainfall in 2012 is lower than that in 1972, but the difference is less than seven per cent in both cases. In the remaining 13 districts, the monsoon rainfall in 2012 was more than that in 1972.

While comparing the 1972 and 2012-13 droughts, it must be kept in mind that the rainfall in 1971, the year before the 1972 drought, was also low, says SANDRP. In comparison, the rainfall in Maharashtra was above average in 2011 and most of the dams were full.

The Economic Survey for 2011-12 notes: “Total rainfall in the State during 2011 was 102.3 per cent of the normal rainfall.” The Agriculture Commissioner had stated in 2011: “The good distribution of rain has resulted in good quality of crops. The above average rainfall has filled up nearly all dams, which will help replenish the soil in the run-up to the rabi season.”