New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) Drought-like conditions prevail in several states across the country with Maharashtra and Odisha being the worst affected, reports from across the indicated on Friday.
People in the parched areas continued to suffer from the scarcity of water even as crops over hundreds of hectares of agricultural land have been severely affected.
The central and state governments have been found wanting, and even lax in responding to, the impending drought in some states.
Besides Maharashtra and Odisha, some parts of states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are experiencing severe water scarcity and drought-like conditions.
Over 27,000 of the total 43,000 villages in Maharashtra – or nearly 60 percent – are reeling under a drought of varying severity this year, besides facing serious water shortages in most urban centres across the state, officials said in Mumbai.
“Of these, a majority are located in the North Maharashtra (Khandesh), Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of the state, and virtually nil water availability has resulted in widespread human and cattle migration to nearby urban centres, adding to their woes,” a Maharashtra government official told IANS in Mumbai.
In Latur, among the worst-hit along with Beed and Osmanabad districts, the centre had made provisions for carrying water by trains from Sangli district which has brought some relief to the people there.
The Maharashtra government has announced drought relief measures of over Rs.11,000 crore (over $1.5 billion) this year, including provision for supplying drinking water, fodder and water for cattle. Despite all this, over 300 lives have been lost, including farmers and around a dozen related to people searching for water in remote areas.
The state has been under fire from the Bombay High Court, both from its Mumbai and Nagpur bench for its indifferent attitude to the water crises, which led to the cancellation of all IPL matches scheduled in the state this month.
The Shiv Sena ruling ally has criticized the BJP’s failure to tackle the crisis headlong, even as the assembly’s monsoon is some 40 days away. Top leaders of all political parties including the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party are currently touring the drought-hit areas.
In Odisha, 27 out of total of 30 districts have been affected by the drought.
“The total crop area affected is 21.6 lakh hectare, out of which at least 14.82 lakh hectare in 233 blocks have suffered losses to the tune of 33 per cent or more,” an official of Special Relief Commissioner’s office told IANS in Bhubaneshwar.
The worst affected district is Mayurbhanj, where crops over at least 1.92 lakh hectares have sustained over 33 percent losses followed by 1.45 lakh hectares in Bargarh. Balangir (1.24 lakh hectares), Keonjhar (1.12 lakh hectares) and Nayagarh (88,922 hectares) are next three in terms of crop-losses, the official said.
To mitigate the situation, the Odisha government has submitted a memorandum to the centre pegging the cumulative losses at Rs.2,344.99 crore.
“We have already disbursed Rs.333 crore to 7.87 lakh drought-affected farmers. The disbursement is on,” said the official.
Additional relief commissioner Mihir Chand Mallick said the state government is taking all steps to mitigate the situation in the state by providing financial assistance and ensuring irrigation facilities.
He, however, denied that any farmer had committed suicide due to crop losses or loan burden.
Agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy had recently informed the Odisha assembly that even though 174 farmers in the state had committed suicide since the 2015 kharif season, not a single farmer committed suicide due to crop failure or failure to repay loans.
The minister claimed that the suicides were due to causes like illness, heart attack, mental disturbance, drug addiction or family quarrelles.
In Jharkhand, which is witnessing a heatwave since April 1, most areas are witnessing temperature highs of over 40 degrees Celsius. The mercury touched 46 degrees in some parts of the state.
Water scarcity has compounded the suffering of people across Jharkhand as many water sources have dried up.
According to sources in the state government, around 100 of the 160 water sources like rivers and major ponds have dried up in the state.
In many parts, including capital Ranchi, drinking water is supplied by the municipal bodies through tankers.
Both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are reeling under second successive drought this year. The harsh summer, alarming fall in water levels in reservoirs and plummeting ground water table has made this as one of the worst droughts in living memory.
The Telugu states have been hit by drinking water shortage as reservoirs across Krishna and Godavari rivers and their tributaries have almost dried out.
The severe drought has triggered migration of farmers and farm labourers from several parts of Telangana and Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. About 20 lakh people estimated to have migrated from Telangana alone to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Vijayawada and other cities.
Telangana government has declared 231 ‘mandals’ or revenue units out of total 443 in the state as drought-affected. In Andhra Pradesh, 359 mandals out of 670 have been declared drought-hit.
For the first time in three decades, four reservoirs which cater to drinking water supply in Hyderabad have completely dried up. The city of over 1.20 crore population is now banking only on supplies from Krishna and Godavari rivers with the shortfall of about 50 percent.
In other towns in Telangana, people are being supplied drinking water through tankers and that too once in four to five days.
The situation in villages is alarming. Severe scarcity of water and fodder is forcing farmers to sell their cattle for half their price.
The heat wave with mercury rising above 45 degrees in some places, has aggravated the situation. According to disaster management department of Telangana, the heat wave has so far claimed 234 lives. More than 200 people have also died in Andhra Pradesh.
Water level has reached dead storage in majority of the 14 reservoirs, which serve both the states. The two states are now pinning their hopes on early and good monsoon. Officials have warned that even a delay in monsoon could worsen the situation.
In Uttar Pradesh, politics is being played by leaders of various parties even as people continue to suffer drought-like conditions in the Bundelkhand area.
A water-tanker train sent at the behest of the central government was stranded at the Jhansi railway station as the Uttar Pradesh government refused to accept the help, saying that adequate steps were being taken by the state government to mitigate the people’s water woes.
(Quaid Najmi, Chinmaya Dehury , Nityanand Shukla, Mohammad Shafeeq and Mohit Dubey contributed to this story. Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)