Members in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday expressed serious concern over the acute drinking water crisis and rising number of farmers’ suicides in 11 drought-hit states including Maharashtra, with the Opposition accusing the government of not releasing adequate funds to these states.Maintaining that drinking water problem has been severe this time, the members asked the government to complete 312 pending irrigation projects across the country in a timely manner to boost water supply for drinking purposes and agriculture. They also asked the government to consider if more funds could be released to drought-hit states, saying the current allocation rate was less than half of what the states had demanded for 2015-16 to tide over the situation. “Right now, 11 states are facing drought-like conditions.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Whether in states or at the Centre, where there are different political parties, we must face the situation. We must rise above political lines and face the situation together,” former Agriculture Minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar said during a short debate on drought in the Upper House. Among 11 states, Uttar Pradesh is worst affected followed by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, he said and emphasised the need to provide immediate relief.While there is no shortage of foodgrains in the country this year, the drinking water crisis is “serious”, he said. “We have to give full attention to drinking water. Why do we have this problem? We have to think of short and long term policy and serious solutions to address this issue,” he said, and suggested that the government focus on water conservation and rainwater harvesting to boost groundwater level. He also asked the government to complete 312 pending irrigation projects in India, of which 240 projects are in five states including Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.Pawar questions about Centre’s aid to statesUrging the Centre to be considerate towards the states facing drought, Pawar said “every state expects the government at the centre to help them out. In 2015-16, the states made their demand for relief package. Was it met?” “The actual release was less than 50 per cent. I think there should be some improvement (in giving funds),” he said, and asked the government to ensure that states use relief funds for water conservation. Against the demand of Rs 3,830 crore drought relief fund, Karnataka was sanctioned only Rs 1,540 crore for losses incurred due to drought during the 2015-16 kharif season.Similarly, Chhattisgarh was given Rs 855 crore against Rs 6,093 crore, while Madhya Pradesh was given Rs 1,875 crore against requirement of Rs 4,884 crore, he said.Narrating the severity of drinking water crisis at a village in Nashik, Pawar said people there get one water tanker in 30 days and have to wait 25 days for the next one. One tanker of water meets only 33 per cent of the requirement of this village. “The situation is such that people gherao the tankers and … Section 144 is imposed to prohibit assembly of more people. People’s efforts are just to collect and store water,” the veteran NCP leader said.Pawar also attacked Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh for his statement yesterday that states like Maharasthra have irrigation to supply water to sugar mills. “I don’t know how the Agriculture Minister has come to this conclusion. It is true that sugarcane requires lot of water. …The minister has impression that all water was used for cane,” he said while sharing a research report on cultivating sugarcane crop in tropical areas with less water.Stating that the drought situation was “grave and very serious”, Pawar said, “in my public life, I have made attempts to mitigate impact of drought when I worked in the state and also at the Centre for 10 years. But the situation that we are witnessing today is more serious, particularly looking at the media reports.”Opposition targets Uma BhartiBefore the debate commenced, Opposition members including those from Congress and JD(U) took strong objection to the absence of the Agriculture Minister and Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti. “Half of the country’s population is facing water crisis. The drought issue is very serious. The concerned minister should be here. It is a very deep crisis,” JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said, “We cannot have debate without the minister concerned. You adjourn the House. Let’s start the debate when he is here.”Deputy Chairman P J Kurien tried to convince members that the subject was a serious one and the government “works on a joint responsibility. Even if concerned minister is not here, we can continue the debate.” The debate, however, started after the arrival of the concerned ministers.Initiating the debate, A U Singh Deo (BJD) expressed concern over meagre allocation of funds and the delay in its release to drought-hit states, especially Odisha. He also said there was a huge difference in state’s and the Centre’s assessment of losses due to drought, because of which states do not get full relief funds.