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Firstpost Ground Report: A region obsessed with sugarcane is schooled in water conservation, and switching crop patterns

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Maharashtra government may ban sugarcane sowing in drought-hit Marathwada

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promises to provide water through railways. Some experts wonder why beer distilleries are not affected

Maharashtra government to ban sugarcane farming in drought-hit Marathwada as it requires maximum water.

The Marathwada region is facing the worst-ever drought, and the state government will have to reserve all water sources – only for drinking.Drying-up dams, poor rainfall for the fourth year in succession, depletion in groundwater levels due to more and more bore-wells and urbanisation scuttling equitable water distribution are the macro reasons being cited. While people of the Marathwada region bear the brunt, some experts say that this scarcity has come as a big blessing to some quarters. But more of that later.The government is likely to ban sugarcane-sowing, at least for the ensuing kharif and rabi seasons, before the onset of monsoon in 2016. Sugarcane farming requires maximum water. Experts say that the government has realised that it would be encountering a drought situation worse than that in 1972. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis would be completing a week-long tour, covering Marathwada as well as the scarcity-hit regions of Solapur and Ahmednagar in western Maharashtra.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Now, for those who gain from water scarcity. According to water expert Pradeep Purandare, if you visit Latur or Jalna, you would find water jars with 20- to 40-litre capacity inside houses. Purandare says people in Jalna are used to buying water for 20 years now, and he raises a question which is that “is this water scarcity in Marathwada region for helping bottling plants?” Most bottling plants, he says, are owned by politicians and water scarcity in Marathwada serves them well. Of course, there are steel plants, which also require large amount of water, he adds.The Marathwada region is facing the fourth consecutive year of a drought-like situation. In addition to sugarcane, farmers have gone for sweet lemon and soya bean. Activists blame lack of judicious water usage and the distilleries and breweries as other factors. But what is intriguing, they say, is that water scarcity has not hit beer production in Aurangabad.Purandare, who has served as an expert member on the Marathwada Statutory Development Board, said that there an immediate ban on cane cultivation is the need of the hour. “What’s the need for new sowing when we are converting standing cane crop into fodder, he asks. Is it necessary to use water for growing fodder when drinking water crisis is going to be unprecedented?” Purandare says. “For equitable distribution and usage of water from the Godavari basin, Nashik and Ahmednagar should provide water to Marathwada region and the state government has to take such a decision as early as possible,” he added.Lok Sabha MP and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana president Raju Shetti said that the government must ban distilleries in Marathwada. When there’s a drinking water crisis, how can we promote beer production and distilleries which require huge amount of water, he asks.NCP president Sharad Pawar termed it is as one of the most severe droughts he has witnessed in his five decade-long public life. Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil has said that Marathwada is facing a drought situation worse than that in 1972. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that the government would provide water through railways and would avail of loans, if needed.

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