“If the dry conditions prevail, many more farmers can end their lives” — Drought in Maharashtra
The Maharashtra government has declared drought in 42 blocks. However, farmers’ leaders mention that farmers in more than 100 blocks are reeling from drought. Questions have also been raised over the methodology of declaring drought in the state.
Pratyaksh Srivastava 4 Nov 2023 2:51 PM GMT
Manoj Patil from Khalegaon village in Maharashtra’s Beed district is anxious about the upcoming festival of Diwali. He has been unable to organise money for the festivities.
All his hopes on the kharif (monsoon) crop harvest have dashed as several blocks in the western state are drought hit. Patil’s district is located in drought-prone Marathwada region which is notorious for high farmers’ suicide.
In his family’s agricultural land jointly owned by six brothers, the 36-year-old farmer had cultivated cotton, soybean, toor dal (pigeon pea) and mosambi spread across 18 acres. The total investment on these crops amounted to Rs 2,86,000, he said.
“But now, I can only hope to harvest cotton worth Rs 21,000 in the market. All the other crops are wilting. The toor dal plants have not produced dana [pulses] and the soybean plants have dried. There is no water available to irrigate the fields,” the angry farmer complained to Gaon Connection.
“Even potable water is scarce. The village well which provides us with drinking water will dry up in a month if it doesn’t rain soon,” Patil added.
What has added fuel to fire is the fact that despite facing drought-like conditions, Patil’s Gevrai taluka in Beed hasn’t made it to the official list of 42 blocks that have been recently declared drought-hit by the Maharashtra government.
According to him, hundreds of thousands of farmers in his district are struggling due to the parched conditions that have affected the kharif harvest. This year’s monsoon has left most farmers high and dry.
“I wish my taluka will also be declared as drought hit. Farmers in my village have no money left to sow the rabi [winter] crops like jowar and wheat,” said Patil.
On October 31, in an official notification, the state government declared 42 talukas in the state to be drought-hit. The farmers are now expected to be compensated for their losses due to the drought.
“If the government declares drought and the farmers receive some compensation for their losses, it will at least save them from suicide. Farmer suicides are very common here. The compensation amount at least helps them survive on bare-minimum expenses till next year,” said Patil, whose soybean crop was infested with snails in August this year, which led to heavy losses.
Last month, Gaon Connection had reported on the farmers’ organisations that had launched protests to demand a declaration of drought. The demands by the protesting farmers’ associations also included crop insurance relief along with compensation of the crops that have been damaged, and fair price for their remaining produce.
Since the beginning of the southwest monsoon season this year, Maharashtra has been reeling under drought conditions which affected kharif sowing. Gaon Connection did ground reports on the same. And a month post the monsoon season, the state government has now declared drought in 40 blocks. But farmer groups are demanding more blocks be added to the list of drought-hit areas.
Declaration of a Drought
According to the Union Agriculture Ministry’s Manual For Drought Management, three major conditions are assessed for declaring drought in India: three consecutive weeks of dry spell; less than 75 per cent cultivation of crops in the targeted area; and more than 50 per cent of recorded crop losses.
But, farmer leaders are questioning the basis of drought declaration in the state. According to Rajan Kshirsagar, the vice-president of All India Kisan Sabha in Maharashtra, argued that the manual referred for declaration of drought has been changed in 2016 and the additional criteria such as Normalised Difference Vegetation Index [NDVI] and Normalised Difference Water Index [NDWI] are introduced which are not suitable for Indian conditions.
NDVI is a remote sensing technique that involves the use of satellite data to assess the health and density of vegetation in an area while NDWI is a remote sensing derived index estimating the leaf water content at canopy level in a field.
“The use of remote sensing to assess the ground reality is far from accurate. These techniques work well in the Prairies [American grasslands] of the United States but we need to understand that Marathwada’s topography is different from America. China and the Philippines have rejected these criteria for assessing their crops for the same reasons,” Kshirsagar told Gaon Connection.
The farmers’ leader also stated that the practice of declaring drought at the block level is a ‘colonial legacy’ and doesn’t represent the ground realities in the villages.
“The drought assessment should not be block-specific; rather smaller divisions such as a village should be referred to. When calculating the moisture content in the soil, it is important to take note of the difference in the thickness of the soil layer across Marathwada. Some areas have a layer of soil that is 80 feet deep while some areas have a soil layer of two metres,” he said.
“The average moisture cannot be calculated in such cases because a thick layer of soil will hold more moisture while areas with a thin layer will be parched,” Kshirsagar added.
When asked about his assessment of drought, Kshirsagar mentioned that more than 100 talukas in the state are actually experiencing parched conditions.
“I demand all these talukas to be declared as drought-hit and the government should release water from the dams to provide for these farmers. I have recorded 99 farmers’ suicide in August when monsoon rainfall had been scarce. If these conditions prevail, many more farmers can end their lives. It is an emergency in the state,” he added.
Meanwhile, using satellite data to assess the areas facing drought conditions in Maharashtra over the years, a 2022 study has concluded that there has been a significant increase in the areas classified as high, very high, or severe drought-prone.
The study titled Monitoring drought pattern for pre- and post-monsoon seasons in a semi-arid region of western India published in the peer-reviewed Springer Nature journal, documented the increasing drought condition in Marathwada’s Latur district from 1996 to 2016 using satellite data across several parameters, including vegetation and water.
"Beyond Latur, authors of the study have warned that other districts in Marathwada and parts of north Maharashtra, such as Beed, Osmanabad, Jalna, Jalgaon, Aurangabad, Nanded, and Dhule, are vulnerable as well, with agrarian communities susceptible to catastrophic effects of droughts on various crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, sugarcane, and others," the press statement issued for the study mentioned.
‘Last year’s compensation not paid yet’
Meanwhile, Ranjeet Tukaram Namdeo Ahir, a 40-year-old farmer from Beed’s Khalegaon village mentioned that due to hailstorms, he had suffered losses in cultivating soybean last year and he had applied for compensation from the government.
“I have not received the compensation yet and this year also poor rainfall has destroyed the soybean crop. It’s an absolute waste and not a paisa can be earned by selling it,” Ahir, who owns an acre of land, told Gaon Connection.
Delay in compensation amounts for crop losses is a longstanding problem faced by farmers in Maharashtra.
“I have made several attempts to get my money. I have gone to Gevrai town which is 20 kilometres away but the officials always ask me for my Aadhaar card or biometric punching. I have provided both and yet haven’t received any compensation,” the farmer alleged.
Meanwhile, Kshirsagar, the farmers’ leader, highlighted that merely declaring drought is not enough and the government should see to it that the farmers are compensated timely.