We had recently mentioned that the real culprit for the severe drought in Marathwada, Maharashtra, is due to the state’s policy which encourages the production of water-guzzling sugarcane. The Maharashtra government has finally acted on the advice of experts and activists to curb the setting up of sugar mills in this region of the state, reported The Huffington Post.
For decades now, experts have cried themselves hoarse over the danger of allowing the unrestricted production of sugarcane, a water guzzling crop, in drought prone areas such as Marathwada and Vidarbha. But successive governments have submitted to lobbying by sugarcane farmers and mill owners, several of whom are politicians belonging to different parties.
“There is elitism within the rural community. Politicians benefit because they are running the sugar mills,” said N.C. Saxena, former secretary in the Ministry of Rural Development, recalling that he had warned against the mushrooming of sugar mills as far back as 1997. Girish Kuber, the editor of LokSatta, had pointed out that, though only four percent of farmed land in Maharashtra is under sugarcane cultivation, it consumes as much as 71.5 per cent of irrigated water, including that from wells.
Now, the Maharashtra government is set to enforce a five-year ban on sanctioning new sugar mills in the Marathwada region, which is facing a severe drinking water crisis. At a core committee meeting of cabinet ministers led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, it was decided to ban new sugar mills in Marathwada, which comprises eight districts — Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani, Latur, Hingoli, Osmanabad and Nanded.
According to The Indian Express, the government’s decision is in line with the recommendations of the Madhav Chitale committee, which was set up when the Congress-NCP government was in power. The panel had pointed out that sugarcane requires a large amount of water to cultivate.
In another decision meant to save water, the government plans to make drip irrigation compulsory for all sugar mills across the state. Data from the ministry of agriculture shows that only 20-25 per cent sugar mills have implemented drip irrigation. A majority of the sugar mills draw water from dams. But the dilemma for the government, officials said, is that sugarcane growers seek higher subsidy to implement drip irrigation. The government is now seeking the Israel government’s expertise and trying to make drip irrigation a less expensive process.