In a state where over 3,200 farmers have committed suicide in 2015, if there is some ray of hope to significantly help the agrarian community in the drought-hit and parched lands of Maharashtra, then it possibly is in a much-applauded scheme – micro irrigation, which delivers water right at the base of the plant through a system of flexible irrigation tubing, drip emitters, and micro sprays.
The BJP government’s flagship micro irrigation scheme, the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (JSA), to harvest and conserve water for a drought-free Maharashtra by 2019, is showing remarkably positive results in Yavatmal’s Kolura village in the suicide belt of Vidarbha. Under JSA, the debris lying in canals for years have been removed, and the canal got widened.
“Firstly, what this has done is that we have water in these canals today. Normally, by January it would all vanish. But now it will last till May. Our harvest has improved and our animals are getting water,” explains farmer Dilip Bangar, while chewing some fresh raw seeds of gram dal picked from a neighbor’s farm.
Farmer Krishna Dharade claims that this has increased output too. “Earlier we only had water for 2 acres at best, for the rabi crop. Now we have water for our entire land. More crops mean more money for us,” he said.
And the difference is there to be seen on the ground. Farmers here are growing corn, wheat, cotton and chana. All of this, farmers insist, is only possible as rainwater has percolated and recharged the abysmally low and over exploited groundwater table.
The JSA has already reached over 6,000 villages and the government aims to transform another 20,000 in the next 5 years. It’s also perhaps the first scheme where the aam aadmi has willingly donated. The government claims Rs 400 crore in work and kind and another Rs 100 crore in cash have been collected so far.
More surprisingly, this comes after the state was hit by the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam a few years ago during the previous regime led by the Congress and NCP.
From villagers to farmers to government employees to Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar to cricketer Ajinkya Rahane to spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar, it has been an enthusiastic surge of contributions.
But can this dent the spiraling graph of suicides related to the agrarian crisis? “Water is life. So yes, if there is water then less number of farmers will end their lives,” farmer Pandurang Khatad explained while working on his cotton field.
The thumbs up from farmers should bring some relief to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. But its success largely depends on a normal monsoon which for the past few years has been truant.
“I’m really happy. It’s a great beginning and it must be applauded. At the same time there are few corrections that are needed. For example, while de-silting, precautions must be taken that ground water aquifers are not disturbed. With time, this will hopefully be taken care of,” explained Parineeta Dandekar, Associate Coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.