YAVATMAL, MAHARASHTRA: : Nearly nine farmers killed themselves every day in Maharashtra last year. But, in 2016 things could begin to change.
A flagship micro-irrigation scheme of the state government, that wants to end dependency on large dams and move to village-level projects for harvesting and conserving water, is beginning to yield results, farmers in Yavatmal’s Kolura village say. Yavatmal is part of the infamous suicide belt of Vidarbha, one of the regions hit badly by India’s agrarian crisis.
The scheme, the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan or JSA is targeted at making the state drought-free by 2019. The government says 1.2 lakh small projects in 6000 villages have already been completed. In five years, the scheme will cover all of the state’s 25,000 villages.
In Yavatmal, the canals have been cleared of debris that lay there for years and widened. “Firstly, what this has done is that we have water today in these canals. 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.
Krishna Dharade claims this has increased his farm’s output too. “Earlier we only had water for two acres at best, for the rabi crop. Now we have water for our entire land. More crop means more money for us,” Mr Dharade who now cultivates all four acres says.
Farmers hope the scheme will also curb suicides. “Water is life. So yes, if there is water then less number of farmers will end their lives,” Pandurang Khatad explains while working in his cotton field.
The difference is already visible. Farmers in the area are now growing corn, wheat, cotton and chana. Last year in February, the fields were barren because there was no water.
“I’m really happy. It’s a great beginning and it must be applauded,” says Parineeta Dandekar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. She says though a few corrections 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,” she adds.
The scheme is partially crowd-funded. The government raised Rs 100 Crore in cash after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis issued an appeal in July. The list of contributors includes from farmers to actor Akshay Kumar and cricketer Ajinkya Rahane.
The thumbs up from farmers should bring relief to Mr Fadnavis. But the scheme’s success still depends on a normal monsoon.