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Newsroom diaries 2016: Marathwada, elections, Olympics, demonetisation and how we covered them

This past week Facebook has resounded with plangent laments about the year that will not end.

Most timelines are lengthy dirges punctuated with cries of cashlessness, Aleppolessness, musiclessness and Baracklessness. Annus horribilis is the Latinate of choice.

There hasn’t been a better year for journalism in recent history. The sordidness of 2016 has presented our estate with sufficient opportunities to peel open and consider the human condition. It has allowed us to recount such stories that newsmen and women don’t often get to tell. This is especially true for a band of journalists relaying reports, opinion and analysis from a newsroom freed of the constraints that tie down a print publication — no curbs on article length, supporting media, revisions and improvements, narrative possibilities, and so on.

Firstpost is one such outfit.

The Firstpost newsroomThe Firstpost newsroom

The Firstpost newsroom

Four stories we’ve reported in the past year should serve to showcase the breadth of material (and digital reporting opportunities) 2016 has provided the Firstpost newsroom.

The first came early when a visiting former chief minister of Maharashtra told us of the seriousness of drought conditions in Marathwada. We dispatched three writers to the region, each equipped with a small camera — none had used one in the course of reporting — to record the extent of damage. The series that resulted from their month-long journey, encrusted as it was with rich media, helped set the general course of debate on state intervention and the failure of successive governments in instituting any lasting solutions to address water scarcity in Marathwada.

In preparing for elections held to elect members to five state Assemblies, in May, we resolved to replicate a television newsroom online; in-studio political analysts, an anchor, multiple video and audio feeds from the five states, data visualisation, combined with on-ground reportage, gathered by writers applying — many of them for the first time — the fundamental tenets of print journalism to digital storytelling methods.

Soon after, the sports desk — frugally peopled — came up against the Rio Olympics, which afforded them the chance to run one of the lengthiest live blogs Firstpost has operated thus far, spanning 16 days, book-ended by the two ceremonies at the Maracana Stadium.

The fourth story is a biphonic texture of two stories that occurred almost simultaneously, over the course of 24 hours, beginning 8 November: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise announcement that 86 percent of currency in circulation would be rendered invalid in 50 days‘ time, and an election in the US that advanced the likelihood of an orange-haired real estate huckster with tenuous grasp of policy occupying the Oval Room.

Both offered Firstpost the occasion to set off a lengthy, live, accretive discourse drawn from analysis that combined text, video and audio; we hadn’t embedded such a large volume of fragmentary opinion pieces in live blogs until then. The election allowed us to build on what we’d learnt in May — we ran an eight-hour broadcast on the website, with commentators weighing in live from Toronto, New Orleans, New York, Delhi, Dubai and Mumbai.

And from all accounts, those last two stories have yet to coil themselves to a close.

The fading days of 2016 could well serve as prologue for the year before us.

A newsroom is made not by the technology or resources at its disposal, but by those who inhabit it. For a more personalised view on the experiences of various members of the Firstpost newsroom while covering specific stories, check out the following accounts:

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 08:51 IST

Maharashtra: Polling on for third phase of local body elections

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Polling is being held for the third phase of elections in 20 municipal councils and two nagar panchayats in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad, Nanded, Bhandara and Gadchiroli districts.The voting is on in Aurangabad and Nanded, which fall under Marathwada region, and Bhandara and Gadchiroli districts of Vidharbha region.There are 1,623 candidates in fray, including 119 for the posts of president of municipal councils.As per a report of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), there are 90 crorepati candidates in the third phase.The election to the Desaiganj municipal council in Gadchiroli has already attracted a lot of attention.The Maharashtra Election Commission has countermanded the election to one ward of the municipal council after Rashtriya Samaj Paksha president and state Dairy Development Mahadev Jankar allegedlytried to pressurise a poll official and influencing the election process.However, Jankar has denied the allegation.

Uma Bharti says govt to come up with a model act to conserve ground, rain water

New Delhi: The government will soon come out with a draft model law to conserve ground, surface and rain water and increase use of treated water for non-potable purposes, Union Minister Uma Bharti said on Tuesday.

Water being a state subject, the act will, however, not be binding on states for implementation.

Addressing the inaugural session of ‘Bhujal Manthan – 2’ in New Delhi, Bharti said a committee will also be formed to suggest ways to conserve fast depleting groundwater levels through aquifer recharge, particularly in drought-hit areas such as Marathwada and Bundelkhand.

Secretaries of Water Resources, Rural Development, Environment and Agriculture will be part of the committee, which is expected to submit its report in a month, she said.

File photo of Uma Bharti. PTI

File photo of Uma Bharti. PTI

“We are going to come out with the draft model act aimed at conserving ground, surface and rain water and one which stresses on using treated water optimally. 62 percent of water used by Israel is treated water. Why can’t we too do that? We too can do it,” Water Resources Minister Bharti said.

The Minister said the act will focus on using waste water for infrastructural and industrial activities, while recycled sewage water will be used for irrigation purpose.

Special secretary in the Water Resources Ministry, Amarjit Singh, seconded the Minister and stated that 80 percent to 85 percent drinking water is sourced from underground across the country.

Around 60 percent to 65 percent of water used for irrigation is fetched from underground, he added.

“Countries like China use less ground water than us, only to the extent of 30 percent of what can be recharged in that country annually. So, we need to make sure the withdrawal is sustainable (through the proposed act),” he said.

Bharti said the government also plans to complete aquifer mapping across the country over the next three years.

At the same time, she said, the government plans to recharge groundwater on priority basis across 1066 blocks (which could either be a district/taluka/mandals) where groundwater is “hugely exploited.”

“The Marathwada, Bundelkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat and now even the Uttarakhand…the trees atop mountains in Uttarkhand which used to hold water have been cut. Hence, we will have to give priorities to these areas and recharge ground water,” she said.

Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who too addressed the event, said his ministry will contribute to the purpose by creating recharge structures through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

“The purpose is to see village water is stopped in the village itself,” he added.

Secretaries of Ministries of Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation, Shashi Shekhar and Parameswaran Iyer respectively, also addressed the event.

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 16:26 IST

Maharashtra: Former AG Shrihari Aney’s pro-Vidarbha party to contest civic polls

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Former Maharashtra Advocate General Shrihari Aney on Saturday said his outfit, Vidarbha Rajya Party (ViRA), would contest the upcoming municipal council elections in Wardha, Gondia, Hinganghat, Arvi and Sakoli.He also announced the names of the candidates. These civic elections would be contested on the plank of demand for separate Vidarbha, he said.Aney was forced to resign as the Advocate General of Maharashtra after he publicly supported the demand of separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada in March. Subsequently, he set up VidarbhaRajya Party to push the demand.Recently, he met leaders of smaller parties including BSP, Trinamool Congress and AAP to lobby for separate Vidarbha in New Delhi.Aney said separate state could be achieved only if the movement for it became a political force.His party was not averse to entering into tie-ups or seat distribution arrangement with like-minded parties or pro- Vidarbha organisations, he said.Ruling BJP and opposition Congress had betrayed the people of Vidarbha, he said, adding that supporters for separate Vidarbha, from any party, would be welcome to join ViRA.

Maharashtra govt sets up panel on climate resilient farming

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Maharashtra government has decided to set up a committee under the chairmanship of a top bureaucrat for the implementation of a Rs 4,000-crore project on climate resilient agriculture.The programme aims to reduce farmers’ dependence on unpredictable weather cycles and enhance resilience of agriculture to climate change and vulnerability through research and use of technology. The seven-member panel, headed by the Principal Secretary (Agriculture), has been set up with a target of selecting 4,000 drought-prone villages for the implementation of the project, according to a Government Resolution (GR) issued two days ago.The committee would select 3,000 villages from eight districts of Marathwada region, while the remaining 1,000 will be chosen from six districts of Vidarbha, it said. The panel has been asked to select indicators related to weather, agriculture and social status of the villages from Marathwada and Vidarbha based on which they would be ranked.”The Marathwada and Vidarbha regions have been at the receiving end of climatic variations. Erratic showers and heavy spells have damaged crops very often in the last few years,” a senior officer of Agriculture Department said. “A climate resilient cropping pattern could be useful to minimise loss of crops. Unless there is a scientific approach to climatic variations, farmers can not sustain themselves,” the officer said.The Vice-Chancellors of Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Agriculture College, Parbhani, and Akola-based Panjabrao Deshmukh Agriculture University, State Agriculture Commissioner and Director General of Groundwater Surveys will be the among members of the committee. Director of the Project on Climate Resilient Agriculture would be the Member-Secretary, while Randhir Savarkar, MLA from Akola (East) would be the only non- administration member of the panel, the GR added.

Devendra Fadnavis announces sops to pacify Marathas: An astute move by Maharashtra CM

The BJP-led government in Maharashtra is facing a serious problem with lakhs taking part in the silent march, as part of the state-wide mobilisation by Marathas, demanding reservation in jobs and education

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is busy trying to resolve the tension in Maharashtra. To prevent the Maratha community from agitating further, CM Fadnavis announced a fee concession and a reimbursement scheme for students belonging to the Economically Backward Classes (EBC), whose annual income is less than Rs 6 lakh per annum. It is supposed to benefit more than 7 lakh students with a burden of Rs 700 crore on the state government. With the civic and zilla parishad elections around the corner, CM Fadnavis’ announcement is a smart move on his part to announce the increasing of EBC limits, which will benefit all castes, including Marathas and Brahmins.

The total population of Maharashtra is over 12 crore and the Maratha community makes up 40 percent of it.

File photo of Devendra Fadnavis. AFPFile photo of Devendra Fadnavis. AFP

File photo of Devendra Fadnavis. AFP

Addressing a unscheduled press conference after the cabinet meeting, CM Fadnavis announced the ‘Rajashri Shahu Maharaj Fee Pratipurti Yojna’. Earlier, for SC/ST students, the Maharashtra government had given a 100 percent fee waiver, whereas OBC students received a 50 percent fee waiver. But the new scheme has been extended to all students of all castes. The income limits of their parents is Rs 6 lakh per annum and it applies to those who have secured 60 percent marks at the time of college admission in HSC. Those who come under the income limit of upto Rs. 2.5 lakhs annually have no condition of marks, Fadnavis said. This will benefit those applying for professional and higher education courses, which include medicine and engineering.

This comes at the same time that Fadnavis announced two more schemes. The Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Crop Subsidy Scheme will benefit marginal farmers and children of registered labourers. In city limits, the government will bear the burden of Rs 30,000 annually, and Rs 20,000 annually in the rural area. The Fadnavis government has also decided to implement the Pandit Dindayal Upadhyay Swayam Yojana which will benefit tribal students and provide the hostel and food facilities. In the city, it will cost Rs 6,000 per month, in the districts Rs 5,000 per month and in the taluks, Rs 4000 per month.

Talking to the media, Fadnavis described the decisions as historic. “We are making a provision of Rs 1,000 crore this year; the budgetary provision will be done later. In the last 20 years, education has become a business in the state and it is difficult for the common man to get admission,” he said. Is the government positive about giving the Marathas reservation? Fadnavis said that his government was firm on giving reservation to Marathas and that they are not demanding the repeal of the Atrocity Act but want it to stop being misused.

The additional burden on the state government is approximately Rs 700 crore and 7.10 lakh students after Class 12 will reap the benefits. The earlier burden of the SC, ST and OBC students in fee concession and scholarship was Rs 1,300 crore. Which means that the total burden on government is Rs 2,000 crore, which will be benefited by 17 lakh students, said Education Minister Vinod Tawde. In addition, for medical students who come under the income limit from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh, the state government will pay the full interest on educational loan. It will benefit 35,000 students in government colleges and three lakh in private colleges, Tawde added. The benefits of the new schemes will start from this academic year with the retrospective method and the fees will be returned by the college authority to those who have already paid. But the required documents that certify an annual income below Rs 6 lakh must be certified by the tehsildar, Tawde added.

Tawde also assured that the BJP government will submit 74 documentary evidences to prove that the Maratha community has been socially and economically backward in an affidavit in the next hearing in court. The government is positive that the court will allow Maratha reservation in the frame of law, he said.

Last week, Fadnavis also announced a Rs 49,000 crore package for the Marathwada region in the special cabinet meeting at Aurangabad. The zilla parishad, nagar panchyayat and muncipal council elections will be held from the last week of November till the year end. The 10 municipal corporation elections will be held in February 2017, which include Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi, Ulhasnagar, Pune, Pimpari Chinchwad, Akola and Solapur. To offset the damage of the statewide Maratha morcha, Fadnavis first announced the Rs 49,000 crore package to the Marathwada region. To soothe the anger of the community, he then announced the Rs 6 lakh creamy layer scholarship facility to all students belonging to the EBC.

Meanwhile, NCP President Sharad Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday asking for Maratha reservation without diluting the quota of other communities. This has put pressure on Fadnavis; hence the announcement of the EBC scheme.

The Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh national general secretary Rajendra Kondhare, who is also one of the organisers of the silent morcha, has welcomed Fadnavis’ decision saying that it benefits all castes under the EBC category. Now the deadlock exists with the state government: there are remaining demands by the Marathas such as reservation in jobs, promotions on merit, amendment in the Atrocity Act and fixed rate cards for agriculture products.

Maharashtra CM Fadnavis announces Rs 49,248 cr development package for Marathwada

Mumbai: On Tuesday Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a Rs 49,248 crore development ‘package’ for Marathwada region, under which important projects, including irrigation and infrastructure, will be completed in a time-bound manner.

“Funds have been allocated for these projects and these will be completed within four years,” Fadnavis said, after a meeting of the state Cabinet in Aurangabad.

This is the first time in eight years that the state Cabinet meeting was held at Aurangabad.

The region, which was reeling under acute drought till recently, has witnessed heavy rains in the last few days, leading to crop damage and loss of life and property.

Under the plan announced by the Chief Minister, Rs 9,291 crore will be spent on irrigation, Rs 5,326 crore on railway network in the region, Rs 3,000 crore for road projects, Rs 250 crore for airport expansion, Rs 450 crore for micro-irrigation, and Rs 1,885 for water conservation works.

Funds for these projects will be raised through bonds, Fadnavis said.

He assured people of Marathwada region that train service to Beed will commence in 2018. A Bal Thackeray memorial will be set up in Aurangabad.

A file photo of Devendra Fadnavis. PTIA file photo of Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

A file photo of Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

A rural development institute, named after late Gopinath Munde, former Union rural development minister, will be set up in Aurangabad, Fadnavis said, adding efforts will be made to get Unesco heritage tag for the historic Aurangabad city.

The procedure of completing ‘panchnama’ to assess damage will be bypassed for areas which have witnessed heavy rains so that farmers get compensation for crop damage quickly, he said.

Criticising Fadnavis over the ‘Marathwada package’ announced today, Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said the Chief Minister, instead of just mouthing hollow promises, should have done something concrete for the people of the region.

“Had Fadnavis declared loan waiver for the farmers, instead of making hollow promises, they would have been relieved,” the Congress leader said.

Meanwhile, police used tear gas and resorted to lathicharge to control a rally of teachers from non-aided educational institutes, which was organised in Aurangabad.

ACP Khushalchand Baheti of Aurangabad Police said the Maharashtra Rajya (Kayam) Vina Anudaanit Shala Kruti Samithi took out a procession this afternoon to press for their various demands.

The participants of the procession went on rampage and starting pelting stones at other pedestrians. Nine policemen and a few pedestrians sustained injuries, he said.

Police resorted to mild cane charge to disperse the mob and the situation is under control, the officer said, adding the injured pedestrians were discharged after primary treatment.

Among other things, the Chief Minister told reporters that 45,000 km of roads would be constructed in the region in the next three years.

Chikalthana Airport in Aurangabad would be given a facelift and its runway would be extended.

Water Conservation Commissionerate would be established in Aurangabad, the CM said.

One lakh houses would be constructed in Marathwada under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojna.

Polytechnic colleges in Latur and Jalna would be elevated to the engineering colleges.

An administrative building to house 25 government offices would be built in Aurangabad.

Cancer Institute at Aurangabad would be given Rs 120 crore and upgraded as a state level cancel hospital, Fadnavis said. Of the amount, Centre would pay Rs 80 crore.

Family courts would be established at Beed, Jalna, Parbhani and Osmanabad while textile parks would be developed at Parbhani, Beed and Nanded.

Marathwada development gets a Rs 49,248-crore booster

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Maharashtra cabinet on Tuesday announced a Rs 49,248 crore-development plan for the Marathwada region. Top priority would be accorded to the long-pending demand of bringing water from the Krishna Valley projects to the region and Rs 4,800 crore has been sanctioned for the same.Addressing a news conference at the Aurangabad district collector’s office after the special cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the development plan would be spread over four years and Rs 1,200 crore would be spent on the Krishna water project every year.Fadnavis said that his government would continue to work for the development of the backward regions of Vidarbha, Marathwada, north Maharashtra and Konkan. In fact, the meeting, lasting over three hours, took more than 20 decisions, including a few new ones.For bringing water from the Krishna Valley projects, the government would take a special permission from the governor.Two railway projects – Ahmednagar-Beed-Parali and Wardha-Nanded – would entail Rs 5,326 crore. For the development of the region’s road infrastructure, which includes national highways, state highways and others, Rs 30,000 crore will be earmarked.A separate commissionerate for water conservation in Aurangabad for creating a water grid for Marathwada would be set up in 4-6 months. Its likely cost would be Rs 15,000 crore. It is not included in the financial package since its detailed project report (DPR) is yet to be prepared.Fadnavis said that estimates are yet to be finalised for a few projects. The cabinet decisions would be implemented by the respective departments in a stipulated time frame and it would boost the development of all eight Marathwada districts, he said.

Marathwada: Downpour ends years of drought but damages crops

Marathwada, the central Maharashtra region which faced severe droughts in the last four years, now has a problem of plenty with incessant rains causing flooding in many parts.

The post Marathwada: Downpour ends years of drought but damages crops appeared first on Firstpost.

Maratha Kranti Morcha: Parties adopt wait and watch approach

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The ‘silent marches’ taken out by Maratha Kranti Morcha around Maharashtra to highlight demands like reservation in jobs and education have created ripples in state politics, with major players adopting a “wait and watch” approach to see if the massive mobilisation will eventually assume electoral dimensions.Observers say that all main parties — BJP, Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP – are unnerved by the huge success of the rallies, highlighting demands like reservation in job and education, though the immediate trigger being the rape and murder of a girl from the community at Kopardi in Ahmednagar. They, however, feel it is too early to jump to the conclusion that the movement will lead to political changes.According to Venkatesh Patil, journalist and author of “Maratha reservation- role and reality”, the campaign is an opportunity for BJP to consolidate its Maratha vote base by bringing the community under the ambit of reservation.”It is not to say Maratha leaders of congress or NCP have not done anything. The present ruling leadership cannot wash off its hands. The BJP is wasting the opportunity if it fails to turn the situation in its advantage,” Patil told PTI.”A Brahmin Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) addressing the grievances of the Maratha community is a good message in the long run. BJP should also groom a Maratha leader with a good mass base,” he said.Patil observes that the “silent and disciplined agitation” has given a new model for the state about how a non-violent morcha can be mobilised. Instead of dismissing it as politically-motivated, the government should see the wider social issues raised by the movement, he said.The issue will not be resolved until there is a constitutional amendment (to the quota regime) and Marathas are included as OBCs.”Right now, political parties cannot touch SC/ST/OBC quota and the government is unlikely to consider the demand going by the constitutional provisions,” Patil said.As per the Supreme Court ruling, reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent and at present the state has 52 per cent reservation, he said. Shiv Sena’s stand of economic reservation has incensed the Maratha Kranti Morcha, Patil said.”There is a feeling that the Sena’s stand is to ensure Marathas do not get reservations. There is no constitutional provision for economic reservation and even if it is given it will not the legal scrutiny,” he said, adding this approach can cost it politically.Shiv Sena, however, has demanded a special sitting of the state legislature to seriously look into the issues raised by the Maratha morcha. Party chief Uddhav Thackeray had called on the chief minister and put across the demand.Balasaheb Sarate, scholar and researcher of Maratha issues, said the predominantly agricultural community has been hit by liberalisation and globalisation with the adverse effects they bought on the farm sector in the last 25 years. This has pushed the Marathas to a sense of social insecurity and isolation, he said.On the economic, social, educational and emotional state of the community, another observer said even though some Marathas are landlords, 70 per cent of the members of that community own maximum 1 hectare and 20 per cent are landless. Education of children of Marathas in rural areas had suffered and there is no opportunity to come up on merit and the fees in private institutions are too high, while certain section of the society get a fee waiver as well as opportunities to gain admission in quota as well as merit. Sarata says the Marathas are worst affected in Marathwada region, where they comprise 45 per cent of the population.In North Maharashtra, subcastes like Leva Patils and Leva Patidars while Kunbis in Vidarbha are included as OBCs and get reservation benefits. But, in Marathwada, the Maratha community has no benefit. In Vidarbha, North Maharashtra and Western Maharashtra, sections of the Marathas come under OBC category, since the communities eligible for reservation are often identified on the basis of traditional occupations, like farm work.Marathwada was in the past ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad and so the land records describe them as only Marathas. Political and administrative machinery have proved inadequate to address these issues, forcing the Marathas to highlight these issues and find out ways to pursue them. However, the alleged rape and murder of a minor girl from the community at Kopardi, became the trigger for the silent morchas all over the state.According to Maratha community leaders in Kopardi, when the family of the victim went to the police station to file an FIR, police were not ready, saying that since the accused allegedly belong to a Dalit community, the (SC-ST) Atrocity Act could be invoked against the family.Sarate said Marathas are not against any community or individuals. Politics is not the target of this Maratha movement. It has evolved and intend to achieve qualitative change in the Maratha community as a whole.”Social, educational and economic development is the sole concern of this movement. The inference that the movement is organised against Fadnavis is baseless,” he said. It is a natural expectation from the head of the state that he or she should to look into genuine issues of this movement.Significantly, political leaders are also participating in the rallies though their organisers have claimed that they had not sought the backing of any of them. On the perception that Marathas are a politically strong segment, he said though many of the MPs and MLAs are from the community it does not mean the community is socially and economically developed.”The administrative machinery and policy makers at the Centre are not Marathas. Maratha leaders who have ruled the state talk only about tribals, Dalits, OBCs and minorities,” he said, adding that the agitation should be seen from the mirror of social justice.Some of the observers, however, say political parties are now looking which way the community will go, whose vote share is equally distributed among all the main parties.

Maharashtra: Revolt in Shiv Sena over cartoon on Maratha protests, Saamana office attacked

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A revolt is brewing in the Shiv Sena over a cartoon published in party’s mouthpiece, Saamna, alluding to the ‘silent march’ being taken out by the Maratha community. Some of its Maratha leaders have openly come out against party supremo Uddhav Thackeray and are set to quit the party in the coming days.Bhaskarrao Bhange from Marathwada, Ravi Raj (corporator) from Dhule and Ashok Khedkar from Buldhana have already submitted their resignations to the Sena chief. Also, stones were pelted at Saamna press in Navi Mumbai even as burning of the newspaper and blackening of Sena hoardings were reported from across Maharashtra.Kailash Pungale, chief of Shiv Sena in Bhokardan taluka, told dna that he is upset with his party over the “insult meted out to the Maratha mothers and sisters”.”Our community people are fighting for their rights and Sena is demeaning them. I have been associated with the Sena since 1987, but today I have decided ‘not any more’ and has submitted my resignation,” Pungale said.Saamna’s Sunday supplement had published the cartoon, which started making rounds on social media. The toon showed a couple kissing amidst a rally and said it’s rather ‘mooka morcha’ (kiss rally) rather than ‘mook morcha’ (silent rally).”This has angered the community members. We were silently protesting for the past 15 days, without raising slogans against any particular caste or religion. We even cleaned the roads in the end so that the local authorities do not suffer,” said Lilaladhar Patil, a Maratha Seva Sangh leader from North Maharashtra.The protests were aimed to press for capital punishment to Kopardi rape and murder accused, seek reservation and implementation of Dr Swaminathan report so that farmers get fair price to their produce.”There was no need to make fun of the Maratha women in cartoon. Uddhav Thackeray should have apologised and ended the matter. But he refused. It shows that he is against Maratha community and used them for mere political gains. The community members will now teach him a lesson,” Patil said.Caught on the back-foot, the Shiv Sena on Tuesday night issued a statement saying that party president Uddhav Thackeray had declared his support for the morchas. The statement, signed by industries minister Subhash Desai, accused opposition leaders Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (Congress) and Dhananjay Munde (NCP) for aggravating the situation. The Sena had earlier claimed that anti-social elements were fanning the controversy over the cartoon.Shiv Sena leaders and state minister Eknath Shinde also met party ministers and legislators on Tuesday to discuss how to deal with the fallout of the controversy.Meanwhile, Congress state president Ashok Chavan and leader of Opposition in state assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil condemned Saamna and demanded a public apology from Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray over the issue.

Maratha Kranti Morcha owes its success to social media, not mainstream media

After Independence in India, the Maratha Kranti Morcha is the largest silent protest by the Maratha community. It is being appreciated across the nation because of its discipline, cleanness and the absence of any of the nonsense seen in other agitations like those conducted by the Jats, Gurjars and Patels. Marathas make up nearly 35 percent of Maharashtra’s population of 12 crore and of the states 288 MLA, 145 are Marathas.

Every community has the constitutional right to hold protests, marches etc if they have some demands. The Maratha marches for the past three weeks (and four subsequent weeks) will cover almost 18 districts. In each district, the average number of eight lakh Marathas taking to the street includes children, collegians, women, workers and senior citizens.

Maratha community members holding a protest rally demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim, at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai last Wednesday. PTI

Maratha community members holding a protest rally demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim, at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai last Wednesday. PTI

Over the past few weeks, many have been asking about the march and wondering who is behind the march. More than any political motive, the real reason for lakhs of Marathas to take to the streets is their anger over the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl on 13 July. In the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, a girl from the Maratha community was raped and tortured to death by three to four drunk people.

The incident was not covered by the mainstream media for some time. This led the youth from Kopardi as well as Nagar districts to go public about the incident on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Angry social media posts went viral and a mob immediately gathered, leading the local police to swing into action and arrest the culprits within 24 hours. But by then, details of the incident had already gone viral across state boundaries, and youths from many parts of the state gathered to support the family.

“The first silent march was started in Aurangabad and other parts of Marathawada, however no one bothered to report this protest. The news was initially published only by a couple of vernacular media outlets, but prominent wings of the media (including television channels, Mumbai-based English and Marathi newspapers) completely ignored the march. However, we had anticipated that the traditional Brahminical media would not report the matter, so we have focused on social media to connect with the Maratha community and mobilise it. We formed several WhatsApp groups and created Facebook pages to send the message to maximum people. Today, with pride, I can say all Marathas — not only those from Maharashtra, but from across the globe are connected via this WhatsApp group. This is a big revolution. The majority of the community never come together and felt pride about themselves, but WhatsApp has changed our community’s traditional mindset. This is a period of churn and we hope all good things will happen henceforth,” said Bhaiya Patil, a social media expert

Ours is a silent protest. No slogans and speeches at all. We are not against any caste or region. We do not want to snatch anyone’s right. We are fighting for our rights in a silent and non-violent way

Liladhar Patil, a Maratha Seva Sangh officer-in-charge for north Maharashtra elaborated on the importance of social media to the march. Speaking to Firstpost, Liladhar Patil said that in order to direct the people, they made a trained activist the admin of the group and he used to upload real-time photos and drone images of the protest. “Besides, we wrote songs and other informative messages that helped to rouse the people to participate in the movement voluntarily,” he said.

“We do not rely on the traditional media, which is biased and wants to divide the community. Initially, they said that the Maratha morcha was against Dalits. When that failed, they said it was against OBCs. Now they are saying it’s against the Brahmins. The traditional media only wants negative news. Therefore, we are also keeping distance from them. Now, we are focusing on opening thousands of Twitter accounts and requesting people to post morcha photos and videos, and then tag the prime minister and chief minister so as to create a larger impact. We want to see the Maratha Kranti Morcha trend worldwide on Twitter,” he added.

maratha-agitation_400

Meanwhile, Maratha youth Satish Chavan from Jogeshwari in Mumbai said, “We hope the media does fair and factual reporting. They should not set the false ‘Maratha versus Dalit’, ‘Maratha versus OBC’ and ‘Maratha versus Brahmin’ narrative. Ours is a silent protest. No slogans and speeches at all. We are not against any caste or region. We do not want to snatch anyone’s right. We are fighting for our rights in a silent and non-violent way. People might have seen many protests, but the Maratha protest is unique in all forms and methods. History will remember these protests.”

A senior journalist and analyst Sanjay Miskin confirmed to Firstpost that the Kopardi incident was highlighted by social media, and until social media posts went viral, mainstream media had remained mum. The first protest in Aurangabad was disciplined, patient and non-violent. After three or four lakh members of the Maratha community joined the march, social media took the lead, he added. “Due to the advent of smartphones, it is easy to gather lakhs of people in one place. So while Kopardi is the cause, the real connection among the community is social media,” said Miskin.

The date and timing of the Mumbai morcha will be announced soon, said a Maratha youth from Dadar. A meeting will be held to chalk out the strategy and planning on 30 September at Shivaji Mandir in Dadar, he added.

Water-starved Marathwada receives excessive rains, farmers worry about crop loss

Incessant rains in the last 10 days have brought relief to the water-stressed Marathwada region which has been suffering from drought for the past four years.

Given the excessive flow of water, the authorities have opened the gates of the dams at various places in the drought-prone region of Maharashtra.

According to the IMD data of the past week, Latur – one of the worst-hit districts – received 161 mm rainfall which is 350 percent more than the normal rainfall. While Parbhani (143.6 mm), Osmanabad (139.9 mm), Hingoli (92 mm), Aurangabad (78.2 mm), Beed (122 mm) received near or more than 200 percent rainfall than expected. Nanded and Jalna received 101.3 mm and 74.8 mm respectively.

Overflowing dam in Beed. Twitter @punkajamunde

Overflowing dam in Beed. Twitter @punkajamunde

According to The Indian Express, about 90 smaller projects in Osmanabad and 17 medium-size dams are overflowing. The newspaper quoted Latur’s deputy municipal commissioner Sambhaji Waghmare as saying that the city will now get more regular water supply as Manjara dam has filled up beyond 70 percent and Manjara river too has enough water. The residents will get tap water every five-six days, Waghmare said.

The IMD department has predicted very heavy rainfall in isolated and most of the places in the region till 29 September.

What is causing this deluge?

“Formation of the low-pressure belt in the Bay of Bengal has caused this deluge in Marathwada and various places in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It will continue till 29 September,” UN Alse, agronomist and professor with Parbhani’s Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Agricultural University said.

“The last two or three days have seen almost 250 mm of rainfall in some places. Many crops like soybean and black grams were damaged in such places,” Alse told Firstpost.

These excessive rains have almost solved the drinking water woes and its daily usage of the people in Marathwada, but in some places, it has destroyed crops like soybean, cotton, black grams etc.

Vaibhav Sahane, farmer from Nanded, told Firstpost: “It’s been raining continuously since 10 days. Moong, black grams in my field have been completed destroyed due to excessive rains. Soybean is almost destroyed. People near the rivers were even told to evacuate.”

“Although it’s nice that it has solved our drinking water issues, but it has damaged crops a lot,” he said.

Changing climatic patterns

Is it not strange that till June 2016, the regions or states that were suffering from extreme drought are now facing deluge? A recent article in Down To Earth studied the changing nature of the floods and extreme rain events that we should be worried about.

Sunita Narian, environmentalist and the editor of Down To Earth, writes that it is essential that we understand the “newness” in the growing numbers of “very heavy” rain events.

Narian highlighted the fact that the mismanagement – permitting encroachments on the riverbeds, drains, and storage lakes – have caused the floods to destroy several parts of the country.

States like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh which had been suffering from drought earlier in April are now receiving heavy rainfall.

Agronomists, environmentalists, agricultural scientists have long been stressing on the repercussions of the climate change. For the past two years, extreme weather events like hailstorms, heat wave, frost, unseasonal and erratic rains have played havoc with agriculture in Maharashtra. And now the state has received normal to very heavy rainfall.

Rainfall data from 1 June to 21 September. Image: IMD website

Rainfall data from 1 June to 21 September. Image: IMD website

Fifteen deaths in rain-related incidents, including seven in a house collapse, were reported in Madhya Pradesh, while Telangana toll rose to 11 with rescue operations still underway.

So, while some are rejoicing as the rains have finally made their solid presence felt in Maharashtra and several parts of the country, we should not ignore that the climate change is the manipulating force behind it.

Heavy rains fill lakes near Mumbai to 99 percent capacity

Mumbai: With the city and its outskirts receiving good rains this monsoon, the seven reservoirs that supply water to the metropolis have been filled to 99 percent capacity, a civic body official said on Monday.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s lake level report released on Monday, all the seven lakes have as much as 14,39,381 million litres of water, as against the capacity to store 14,47,363 mn litres.

“Out of our full supply level of 14,47,363 million litres of water, our lakes are filled with 14,39,381 million litres of water today morning, which is 99.45 percent of our total stock and capacity,” an official from the hydraulic department of BMC said, adding they have enough water for over 385 days.

Mumbai’s water supply comes from seven reservoirs – Modak Sagar, Tansa Lake, Vihar Lake, Tulsi Lake, Upper Vaitarna, Bhatsa and Middle Vaitarna.

The Bhatsa and Upper Vaitarna come under state government’s control while the others are maintained by the BMC.

The official said Bhatsa and Upper Vaitarna reservoirs have reached full supply level (FSL) for the first time.

The BMC supplies 3,750 million litres of water everyday to the island city and suburbs, which still falls short of the actual demand for 4,200 million litres. In the recent past, insufficient rainfall had forced the BMC to impose water cuts.

“Since we have got sufficient rain this year and we have enough water for the year to come, it does not mean that we can start using water indiscriminately. We always need to be judicious to save the water,” he said.

In the recent years, apart from less rainfall, rapid growth in population of Greater Mumbai and huge losses occurring due to leakages of the pipelines and illegal water connections tapping into these pipes have always been a matter of big concern for civic officials.

Meanwhile, the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, which was parched during the summer season, witnessed huge rainfall during the monsoon, resulting in a number of villages getting flooded, especially in Beed district, and NDRF has been deployed in rescue efforts.

The long spell of rains has led to the dams in Latur getting filled.

Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh expressed his joy over good water collection in dams of Latur.

“Latur Manjra Dam overflows after 9 years. News everyone was waiting to hear & a sight everyone was waiting to see,” Deshmukh tweeted on Monday.

India’s entry into MTCR result of deal with Italy on marine issue: Congress

Congress on Monday claimed that India became a full-member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as a result of a “deal” with Italy by the Narendra Modi government on the issue of two Italian marines.Party spokesman Kapil Sibal claimed that India’s entry into the MTCR followed a “deal” with Italy by the Modi government on the issue of the marines charged in a case of killing two Indian fishermen. He said while India was becoming a member of the MTCR, Italy was the only country opposing its entry and the “ghar wapsi” (sending back home) of the Italian Marines paved the way for the agreement.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>India today joined the MTCR as a full member and said its entry would be mutually beneficial to enhance global non-proliferation norms. Marking India’s first entry into any multilateral export control regime, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar signed the instrument of accession to MTCR in the presence of France’s Ambassador-designate Alexandre Ziegler, The Netherlands’ Ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga and Luxembourg’s Charg d’Affaires Laure Huberty.India’s entry into MTCR comes days after it failed to get NSG membership due to stiff opposition from China and a few other countries. Asked about the Prime Minister’s veiled attack on the Congress over the GST issue, Sibal said that Modi instead of going to Washington seven time to meet Barack Obama, should have at least once visited drought-hit Marathwada to meet poor farmers then “We would have believed him that he thinks of poor”.He was asked to react on Modi’s reported remarks that GST Bill will benefit the poor and there is only one political party which is not allowing it to pass.

Maharashtra: Government to give ‘tree credits’ as an incentive for planting trees

The state government may soon make money grow on trees. For, it is planning to establish a system on lines of carbon credits, where “tree credits” can be given as an incentive to those planting trees.The credits will be purchased by polluting industries, making Maharashtra the first in India to implement this system. In the concept, which is being worked out, the state is eventually planning to establish a corporation where these credits, which will be geo-tagged with the tree’s latitude and longitude, can be traded and sold like on the stock market or commodity exchange.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While ensuring participatory afforestation, income for farmers and enforcing the polluter pays principle, it will boost green cover in Maharashtra. A five-member committee will submit it’s report by September with details of the policy and proposed regulatory framework. The measure is expected to boost afforestation in Maharashtra, which has just 20.01% of recorded forest areas (RFAs) compared to 23.26% nationally. The National Forest Policy, 1988, has a target of 33%.The plan will reward people growing wood trees like saag, neem, babhool, and mohua. The state may launch a pilot project in drought-affected areas like Marathwada with low forest cover. “We are planning a legislation for establishing the tree credits system,” finance and forests minister Sudhir Mungantiwar told dna.”Once a farmer plants trees, it will get a unique number based on the latitude and longitude,” added Mungantiwar, stating that these tree credits could be traded like in the share or commodity markets. A specialised company will be formed to control and monitor the system. Mungantiwar said they could make it mandatory for candidates in local body polls to have tree credits like the rule mandating that they have a toilet at home. Schemes like concessions to tourism projects holding credits and polluting industries like thermal power plants purchasing a certain number of tree credits can be evolved.Former Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer and ex-director general of social forestry, Tasneem Ahmed, who thought of this concept and is part of the committee, said they wanted to reward people who planted trees with maximum capacity for long-term carbon sequestration. This will mitigate the crisis due to use of fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases.While adopting the Supreme Court’s “polluter pay” principle, the plan involves “transfer of money from polluters to those farmers who plant trees and look after them.” Tree credits will be credited to the demat account of planters and can be encashed from the government (for eventual sale to industries) at the rate to be advertised annually or sold to polluting industries. Eventually, there are plans to enable market trading of credits.”Tree credits will increase as the ability of the tree to absorb carbon rises,” said Ahmed, adding that credits can accrue till the age of 55 years and then decline, considering its reducing ability to absorb carbon dioxide.Once it is past its prime, the tree can be cut for wood to replace plastic and metals like iron and aluminium which can damage the environment. Ahmed said a pilot could be launched for new plantations in drought-prone areas like Marathwada with low forest areas. This will ensure that farmers get a fixed income. Industries like sugar mills can be made to buy tree credits annually. The system will eliminate lacunae in the present social forestation system.A forest official said purchase of tree credits could be made compulsory if forest land was to be diverted for non-forest purposes or if trees were to be felled for projects like roads. Credits will be accrued after actual physical verification. The government will also declare a minimum support price under which tree credits cannot be sold.

Rains lash several parts of India; 2 die of lightning strike

Rains lashed several parts of the country including the national capital today bringing some respite for people from hot and humid conditions, even as two persons were killed after being struck by lightning in a village in Uttar Pradesh.In Delhi, the Safdarjung weather station recorded a rainfall of 10.1 mm while observatories at Lodhi Road, Palam, Ridge and Ayanagar recorded 4.1 mm, 3.4 mm, 5.2 mm and 31.8 mm respectively till 5.30 PM, a MeT official her said. Humidity level in the city oscillated between 49 and 98 per cent.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As per forecast, rain is likely to occur during night too. Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 38.6 degrees Celsius, the official said. The weatherman has predicted partly overcast condition along with the possibility of rains and thunderstorm on Tuesday.On Sunday, the maximum temperature recorded was 40.1 degrees Celsius. In Punjab and Haryana too, the maximum temperature level hovered close to normal level after rain lashed a few parts ofthe twin states. Chandigarh, which received light rains in the late afternoon, recorded a maximum of 37.9 degrees Celsius, the MeT Department there said.In Haryana, Karnal registered a high of 36.4 degrees while Ambala’s maximum settled at 37.6 degrees. However, Hisar was hot at 41.1 degrees Celsius.Among other places which received rains in Haryana included Gurgaon, Faridabad, Rohtak and Panchkula. In Punjab, Amritsar recorded a high of 35.3 degrees after it was hit by light rain. Ludhiana and Patiala recorded a maximum of of 39 degrees Celsius each.Phagwara, Jalandhar, Mohali and Ropar in Punjab were among other places which received rain.The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted heavy rainfall in drought-hit Vidarbha and Marathwada regions in the coming two days, even as it said that around 90 per centMaharashtra has been covered by monsoon. Two persons were killed in Azamgarh district after being hit by lightning in Dubra village in Bardah area while they were working in their field, police said ,adding, both of them died on the spot.Meanwhile, light to moderate rain and thunder showers lashed few places in Uttar Pradesh since yesterday.Highest maximum temperature over the state was 40.2 degree Celsius recored at Etawah.In West Bengal, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling received 114.6 mm, 86 mm and 4.9 mm of rainfall since yesterday. Kolkata received mild rains and maximum temperature was recorded at 34.4 degrees Celsius. In Odisha, Balasore and Nawana and Kaptipad also received rains.In Bihar, Patna registered maximum temperature of 38.1 degrees Celsius, while Gaya, Bhagalpur and Purnea stood at 39.5 degrees, 36.5 degrees and 36 degrees respectively.

Uddhav Thackeray slams Modi govt on farmers’ issue

Hardening its stand against ruling partner BJP, whom it has kept out of the party’s golden jubilee celebrations on Sunday, Shiv Sena on Saturday fired a fresh salvo at the Narendra Modi government over the plight of drought-hit farmers in Marathwada region of Maharashtra.He also criticised the BJP-led state government for “doing nothing” for farmers and for running a “false propaganda” in the name of development. “Central government is organising various conventions for industrialists under its (flagship) ‘Make In India’ programme, but is doing nothing for the welfare of distressed farmers in Marathwada region,” Thackeray, who was on tour of Osmanabad district in Marathwada region, said at Bavchi village.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He demanded that a ‘Pani Parishad’ (water convention) be organised with an aim to eradicate the severe drought.He performed a ‘jal poojan’ ritual of water that got accumulated after recent rain in various water conservation works being carried out under the party’s “Shivjal Kranti” scheme in the region. In a veiled attack on Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over his pet “Jalyukta Shivar” (water conservation) scheme, Thackeray said, “Sena is carrying out water conservation works under the ‘Balasaheb Thackeray Shivjal Kranti scheme’. No other political party has done this for the people.” He said not only Sena but other parties too are unhappy over the handling of farmers’ issue by the state government.Sena has organised a rally in suburban Mumbai tomorrow to mark 50 years of its formation on June 19, 1966 by late Bal Thackeray. Interestingly, Sena has not invited its alliance partner, BJP for the golden jubilee celebration.

Monsoon likely to gain momentum, advance further into Marathwada: IMD

New Delhi: After a making a slow progress, the southwest monsoon is expected to gain momentum and advance further into several parts of drought-hit Maharashtra and central India.

“The southwest monsoon has further advanced into remaining parts of coastal Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Gangetic West Bengal, more parts of north interior Karnataka, Vidarbha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Jharkhand and Bihar,” the India Meteorological Department said.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences, M Rajeevan, said the last week of June is expected to witness some good rainfall.

IMD said the conditions are favourable for the monsoon to advance into entire Konkan and Goa, drought-hit central Maharashtra, Marathwada, remaining parts of north interior Karnataka, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

The weatherman has forecast an “above normal” monsoon this year. However, its onset over Kerala, which marks the commencement of the rainy season in the country, was on 8 June, seven days later than predicted.

Also, it made a slow progress due to lack of a favourable system that could have given it a boost to move forward. The slow pace had increased the rain deficiency to 25 percent.

It is expected to make its way to Delhi in the first week of July. Normally, it reaches the national capital by 1 July.

China to share rain inducing new technology with drought-hit Maharashtra

Beijing: China is in talks with India to provide cloud-seeding technology to drought-hit Maharashtra to induce rain and train the staff of local meteorological department.

A team of scientists and officials from Beijing, Shanghai and China’s eastern Anhui province mooted the cooperation during their recent visit to Maharashtra which has experienced severe droughts over the past two years.

Representational Image. AFPRepresentational Image. AFP

Representational Image. AFP

China has over the years used the cloud seeding rockets tipped with silver iodide to cause precipitation. But it requires clouds to cause precipitation.

If the discussions are successful, Chinese experts would provide training to officials of the Indian Meteorological Department on their latest cloud-seeding technology, state-run China Daily quoted officials as saying.

The training is expected to be given on procedures to seed clouds successfully, the daily said.

The training is aimed at inducing rain over Maharashtra’s Marathwada region in the summer of 2017 if needed, it said.

The development follows a meeting between Shanghai’s top official Han Zheng and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai in early May.

Han, who is also a Communist Party of China Politburo member, had asked Fadnavis if China could do anything for drought relief in Maharashtra, it said.

China started to use cloud-seeding technology in 1958, and today it has one of the most advanced systems in the world, the report said.

Rain clouds are here..

The parched regions of Maharashtra have a reason to cheer. The monsoon’s surge is about to revive, ending the brief lull that had stalled its advance and got farmers worried. Weathermen from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that in the next two-three days, monsoon will advance over various parts of Maharashtra, starting with Konkan, Mumbai and then Marathwada and Vidarbha.”We have favourable weather systems developing over both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. These conditions will make westerly winds stronger,” said KS Hosalikar, deputy director-general, IMD, western region.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Met department also said on Thursday that “conditions are once again becoming favourable for the advance of southwest monsoon over south Chhattisgarh and remaining parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Odisha, Gangetic West Bengal and Jharkhand.”Since its onset on June 8, the monsoon had made rapid progress in the next three days, advancing till Karwar on west coast and Ongole near coastal Andhra on the east coast. But, from June 12 onwards, weather conditions on the west coast weakened, worrying farmers and people of drought-hit regions of a further delay. “Things are improving now. A cyclonic circulation is set to form over west-central Bay of Bengal and it is likely to move towards the west, making conditions favourable for monsoon rainfall in Maharashtra,” said Sunitha Devi, director, weather section, IMD, Pune.Private weather forecaster Skymet, too, said that rains are set to pick up pace after next 24 hours. “The cyclonic circulation over Bay of Bengal will help in increasing the monsoon surge over the west coast and we expect that the intensity of rain will increase over Interior Maharashtra as well as the coastal areas of North Maharashtra including Mumbai by June 18,” said Skymet. They added, “Further, by June 20 and June 21, moderate to heavy rain and thundershowers are expected to lash Mumbai and nearby areas. This spell may mark the onset of much-awaited monsoon over Mumbai.”

Drought in India: 13 ways to deny the poor food-grains at a time of scarcity

“But this is paap”, I found myself slipping into a language I don’t normally use. We had stopped at a small village in Mahoba, and were asking people about their accessibility to subsidised food. The local ration shop owner (Kotedar) was present there, as was the food inspector – on orders from the district administration. The two evidently got along very well. Despite their best efforts to tutor everyone before our arrival, the unpleasant truth was tumbling out.

Many visibly poor families were being denied their quota of subsidised food-grain. Many poor women were agitated, while the Kotedar remained nonchalant. I thought it was pointless to use the language of law, entitlements or procedures, and tried to speak to the Kotedar’s sense of paap and punya. How could he possibly deny people food during a drought? He was unmoved.

Many visibly poor drought hit families were being denied their quota of subsidised food-grain. Jayati Saha.Many visibly poor drought hit families were being denied their quota of subsidised food-grain. Jayati Saha.

Many visibly poor drought hit families are being denied their quota of subsidised food-grain. Firstpost/Jayati Saha

Throughout the padyatra, the one subject that aroused maximum interest was food-grain through the public distribution system. Women would begin to focus on the proceedings as soon as we asked a question about ration. Every meeting was a revelation. We thought we were there to inform the people about how the apex court had added to their entitlements, under the National Food Security Act of 2013.

The Act mandates that every “priority household” (meaning a family eligible for ration, about two-thirds of the entire population) must get five kg of food-grain per person per month at a subsidised rate of Rs two per kg for wheat and Rs 3 per kg for rice. The Supreme Court order had extended this benefit to all households, not just those in the “priority” list. We were to discover that most villagers were not able to access even the existing entitlements.

Here is my quick list of the myriad ways in which the poor are deprived of their legal entitlement:

            1) No card at all: Anywhere between one-tenth to one-third of people in each village do not possess any kind of ration card at all. The number could be larger in a Tanda (a hamlet of nomadic community) in Osmanabad, but smaller in more politically conscious UP villages.
Reasons could vary from legitimate (“came back to my parental village last year after my husband’s death”) to mystifying (“applied many times but got no response”). Not a single village has universal ration card coverage.

            2)No ration shop: Officially, each habitation is allotted a shop, but it need not be inside the village. It could be located in an adjacent village – far enough to dissuade some people from taking the trouble to obtain their ration. We found many shops closed. In one such case, the shop was closed for nearly a year, as the license of the previous ration shop owner was cancelled on charges of corruption. Those who suffered due to his corruption, were now suffering more from his absence.

            3) No NFSA slip: As different states made the slow and difficult transition from the earlier system of Below/Above Poverty Line (BPL/APL) households to the Priority/Non-priority classification mandated by the National Food Security Act, they were required to issue a fresh slip of entitlement to the eligible households.
This has opened a fresh avenue for delay, denial and discrimination, not to speak of corruption. We discovered that in UP villages, most households had paid a “service charge” of Rs 50 for taking a printout of the computerised slip. (I am happy to report that in three of those villages, we got the contractor to return that money on the spot.)

            4) Under process: This officialese covers all those cases where people have applied for ration cards, but are told that their documentation is not complete or has been sent to the tehsil office, and there is no response.

             5) Technical fault:  You may have completed the due process, given all documents and everything might be verified. Yet your name is not on the final list of eligible households published on the internet. It could be a name mismatch between your ration and Aadhar card, an incorrect data entry, or something else. As an official once said to me, “kya karen, apka bad luck kharab hai.

            6) POS machine:  This is a high-tech version of the previous identification machines. Many states like Madhya Pradesh have introduced the bio-metric based Point of Service (POS) machines, meant to generate a coupon after verifying your entitlement and usage with the help of your finger print. Good idea. The trouble is that it needs an internet connection, electricity and a functioning machine. When even one of these conditions fail, it gives a perfect alibi, “Machine kaam naheen kar raha.

            7) Deletion of names: Your troubles don’t end even after you have obtained the computerised slip of entitlement. In Uttar Pradesh (and Rajasthan I am told), the government is on an over-drive to cancel many of these slips. The reason: the state had exceeded its quota of cards. So if you have a tractor, or a gun license, or anyone in the family has a government job, your card will be taken away.

           8) Not all members on the card:  You finally get your card but find many names missing from it. Since the quantity of ration now depends on the number of family members, a family of eight could be entitled to ration meant for three persons. This is one of the most widespread complaints.

           9) Skipping a month: You have everything but the ration shop owner says that the quota for this month has not been released. Even in an otherwise better functioning state like Maharashtra, there were umpteen complaints about skipping the quota every second or third month. In remote villages, you are lucky if you get it once in three months.

            10) Inadequate supply: You go to the ration shop and are told “upar se poora quota nahin aaya (the government has not released full quota this month)”, so you have to make do with half or one-third of your entitlement. On the way back, you discover that your influential neighbor got his full due.

            11) Under-weighing: Many shops in UP still use the old style taraju (weighing scale) – a perfect instrument to cheat (“dandi marna” is the local phrase) the customer of anything around one to two kg of food-grain.

            12) Poor quality food-grain: You finally get your quota, but cannot take it to your kitchen. In a village in Maharashtra, women were waiting for us with a sample of wheat they received last month from the ration shop. “Can you feed this even to the cattle,” they asked.

           13) Over-pricing: Official prices are often not quite known and over-pricing abounds in many forms – in many places they charge Rs three per kg for both rice and wheat (against the official rate of Rs two per kg), or levy “transport charges” above the official figures. We are talking about blatant “black” sale of food-grain for as high as Rs 12 to 15 per kg.

            PS: And here is the latest addition to the list: It’s three weeks since the Supreme Court’s historic order on food security.  You would imagine that action would have already begun. But when last heard, the Central government and state governments were exchanging letters on who should pay for it!

Editor’s note: Swaraj Abhiyan founder Yogendra Yadav is on a padyatra of drought affected regions of Marathwada and Bundelkhand. He will file dispatches for Firstpost about the drought and his march. This is the fourth story in the series.

Read Story 1: Narendra Modi’s inaction speaks louder than his words

Read Story 2: There’s water everywhere in Latur, but not a drop of it’s free

Read Story 3: Bundelkhand battles cattle famine, but little action from govts

Maharashtra drought: SpiceJet to supply 71,500 litres water to 11 villages in Latur district

To commemorate its 11 years of operations, budget airline SpiceJet on Tuesday said it has partnered with an NGO to supply nearly 71,500 litres water to 11 villages in drought-hit Latur district under Marathwada region of Maharashtra every day.”At a time when the state is combating severe drought conditions, SpiceJet has stepped in to pledge help and relief to 11 villages in Latur, an initiative to commemorate its 11 years of flying,” the airline said in a statement issued here.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The airline, along with voluntary organisation ‘AnybodyCanHelp’ will organise, coordinate and execute the supply of nearly 71,500 litres of water to 11 villages per day across Ausa taluka in Latur district.Under the initiative, water tankers assigned by SpiceJet will undertake the exercise for the whole of the month starting from May 23 till June 23.Maharashtra is facing severe drought this year.The state government had earlier this month declared drought in over 29,000 villages of the state, mostly in parched Marathwada and Vidarbha regions.As per officials, only one per cent water is left in dams in the Marathwada region.

How Swaraj Abhiyan’s ‘padyatra’ aims at making a drought-free, suicide-free India

Swaraj Abhiyan, an NGO working for the farmers’ cause has now taken up a Padyatra (foot march) in the drought prone areas of Marathwada and Bundelkhand to spread awareness amongst farmers and villagers on water conservation, government’s rules and statutes, and finally about the Supreme Court’s recent judgment and direction to the government on drought.

Named as Jal Hal Padyatra (water plough foot march), the initiative kick started on 21 May, when Swaraj Abhiyan – a splinter group of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — initiated a march led by its co-founder Yogendra Yadav from village Somvati of Latur district in Maharashtra and travelled 20 kms covering many villages on its way.

“Drought is not brought on by nature, but is man-made or policy-made due to the wrongful policies of the government. Despite hundreds of crores of rupees being spent, no results have been yielded so far. Drought hits Indian states almost every second or third year, but, Swaraj Abhiyan has expressed that under no circumstances, the situation of drought should be turned into a famine. We want to achieve a suicide free India,” said Yadav.

Background of the Padyatra

On 2 October, 2015, Swaraj Abhiyan started a march called ‘Samvedna Yatra’ from Yadgir district in Karnataka and covered seven states to assess the situation.

“No one was talking about the drought though the signs of the disaster were imminent in Marathwada region. In September 2015 Swaraj Abhiyan stated the danger of drought but the government paid no heed to it. Then we took out a march on Gandhi Jayanti and covered seven drought prone states. Yogendra ji brought the issue of drought before the state governments, to which some like Uttar Pradesh responded, while the rest ignored. But, ultimately it was found that nothing could be implemented by the government at ground level. The central and state governments’ apathy towards the issue was clear,” said Anupam, national working committee member, Swaraj Abhiyan.

Swaraj Abhiyan's co-founder Yogendra Yadav addressing farmers at a village in Latur district of Maharashtra. Debobrat GhoseSwaraj Abhiyan's co-founder Yogendra Yadav addressing farmers at a village in Latur district of Maharashtra. Debobrat Ghose

Swaraj Abhiyan’s co-founder Yogendra Yadav addressing farmers at a village in Latur district of Maharashtra. Debobrat Ghose

Swaraj Abhiyan had got a survey done and the result was alarming. Bundelkhand region was found to be the worst-hit area amongst other drought prone regions.

As a next step, the organization filed a petition at the Supreme Court. In its judgment on 11 May, the apex court in its scathing verdict alleged that parts of 12 states — Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief. The court found that the total population in the districts affected by drought is about 33 crore.

The SC said that while the Centre have been “washing its hands of a national disaster”, both Centre and the states showed “lack of will” in combating drought and saving lives of people.

The apex court in its 53-page verdict asked the government to establish a National Disaster Response Force with specialist cadre in six months; set up a Disaster Mitigation Fund within three months; frame National Plan on risk assessment, risk management and crisis management in respect of a disaster; and update 60-year-old Drought Management Manual keeping in mind “humanitarian factors” like migrations, suicides, extreme distress, the plight of women and children.

The Padyatra

The main objectives of the march from 21 May to 31 May was to address the growing rural-urban disconnect; farmer-youth disconnect and simultaneously create awareness amongst people by organizing meetings with village panchayats and farmers and telling them about their rights.

“Following this historical judgment of the SC, we’re now creating awareness about the verdict and about the farmers’ rights. Drought is not just about shortage of water, but it ultimately leads to food crisis. Today, there is a great divide between Bharat and India,” added Anupam.

Rajendra Singh of Jal Biradari – known as “water-man”, who joined the march on Saturday interacted with the villagers while explaining the methods of promoting water conservation, water management and traditional rainwater harvesting. The march will end at Shiradhon in Marathwada region on 25 May and the next Padyatra will take place in the Bundelkhand belt in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

“The government can’t be made accountable for everything, even the Prime Minister can’t fight drought of the whole country if he wants, therefore all citizens should own up and help in fighting the drought,” added Yadav.

Rs 2,000 crore-additional relief package sought from Centre: Eknath Khadse

Pune: The Maharashtra government has sought additional relief package of over Rs 2,000 crore from the Centre to tackle drought in the state, Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse said on Saturday.

“The additional relief package of Rs 2,017 crore has been sought from the Centre, keeping in mind the drought and the Rabi crops,” he told reporters in Pune.

“After we put forth our demand, I spoke to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh yesterday and urged him to provide the necessary relief,” he said.

Maharashtra finance Minister Eknath Khadse. PTI

Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse. PTI

On 12 May, the BJP-led Maharashtra government had declared drought in over 29,000 villages of the state, mostly in parched Marathwada and Vidarbha regions where the grim situation was earlier described as “drought-like”.

“Necessary relief has been given to farmers living in these areas in the form of restructuring of their loans, waiving of exam fees for students, 100 per cent subsidy in electricity and providing food grains to people living in drought affected areas,” the minister said.

“As farmers are facing financial crunch due to drought, the seeds for ensuing sowing season will be made available to them and we will make sure that there will be no increase in the rates of fertilisers,” Khadse said.

The minister said the state government has earmarked funds to set up 6,000 onion storage facilities and funds have been sanctioned to build shade nets for crops to minimise the impact of heavy rains.

Khadse said that the Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) will be implemented in the state and Rs 2,000 crore has been sanctioned for the same.

“Damages to crops in post harvesting, cutting and harvesting, storm, unseasonal rains, flooding of fields, landslides and hailstorms have been included in the norms for granting compensation under the scheme,” he added.

Maharashtra drought: Railways send Rs 4 cr bill for water train to parched Latur

Mumbai: A month after the first ‘water train’ reached Latur, the Railways have provided 6.20 crore litre water to the parched region, and sent a Rs four crore bill to the district collector towards transport cost.

“We have sent the bill to the Latur district collector as per the administration’s request,” Central Railway’s General Manager S K Sood said.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“It is up to the district administration whether to pay us or seek waiver of the amount, through proper channels. We sent the water transport bill as per their request,” he said.

The first water train, christened ‘Jaldoot’, left Miraj in western Maharashtra on 11 April and reached Latur on 12 April, covering the distance of around 342 kilometres.

After nine trips by a 10-wagon water train, a 50-wagon water train carrying 25 lakh litre water was later pressed into service. It was specially commissioned from Kota in Rajasthan to transport water to Latur.

It was in January 2013 that Maharashtra first considered water trains for parched regions of drought-hit Marathwada. iscussions were then held with the Railways to arrange wagons to transport 5 lakh litres of water daily.

While Latur city has a population of over four lakh, the district rural areas, with 943 villages, have a population of 18 lakh. The water levels in the 131 smaller dams in the district have depleted fast.

Maha govt to declare drought in over 29,000 villages

Mumbai: In the wake of acute water shortage in various parts of Maharashtra, the state government has informed the Bombay High Court that it would declare drought in over 29,000 villages in the state and all relief prescribed in the Drought Manual, 2009 would be provided.

The government in its reply to a batch of PILs on water shortage issue, has told the court that it would issue a corrigendum and clarify that wherever reference is made to a ‘drought-like situation’ and ‘drought-affected areas’, the same should be read as ‘drought’.

The affidavit said last week the government was strictly implementing various schemes and taking various measures to mitigate the water scarcity in drought-hit areas and more particularly in Marathwada and Vidharbha regions.

Bombay High Court. News18Bombay High Court. News18

Bombay High Court. News18

The court also took note of the contention of Acting Advocate General Rohit Deoit that it would not be possible for the government to supply drinking water daily to all districts but it would be supplied on a regular basis.

Deo assured the court that potable water would be supplied to all districts affected by drought regularly till the onset of the monsoon.

The government had earlier told the high court, which is hearing the PILs, that it had declared ‘drought-like situation’ in over 29,000 villages in Maharashtra.

One of the petitioners, Sanjay Lakhe Patil had alleged last week that the government has failed to implement the Drought Manual of 2009 as well as the Drought Management Plan, 2005.

He had submitted that the state government has deliberately not declared drought in Maharashtra or in the
actually affected areas.

“This was done in order to ensure that additional relief which is normally given to villages which are declared as drought-hit villages is not given and these villages have been avoided,” Patil had argued.

After perusing the affidavit, the court had noted, “Prima facie we are satisfied that the government has given a serious thought and has considered this issue in detail and is taking immediate steps for the purpose of ensuring that in the month of May and part of June this year all adequate measures as mentioned in the Drought Manual are being undertaken.”

The court posted the petitions for hearing on 24 May to ensure that the government is implementing the provisions under the manual.

Devendra Fadnavis meets Modi, seeks addl funds to tackle drought

Maharashtra government has sought additional funds from the Centre to tackle the drought and farm distress in Marathwada, Vidarbha and other regions, said chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday. Earlier, he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprised him on the state’s short-term and long-term plans to tackle the drought. The Centre has sanctioned Rs.3,500 crore to fight the drought against the demand of Rs.4,000 crore and the entire amount has already been disbursed to district administrations.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The chief minister said that his government has sought additional funds as 11,000 more villages have been gravely affected by the drought situation. “We are going to submit a supplementary memorandum to seek additional funds. During our meeting, we made a presentation on the current water levels, rainfall received and on steps taken to alleviate water scarcity,” said Fadnavis.He added, “We also had a discussion on work that needs to be done ahead of monsoon’s arrival. Desilting of water bodies, structural improvements and harvesting of water will be a priority.” Fadnavis, however, did not specify the additional funds requested.Besides, the state has also made a host of other requests to improve irrigation, water management and institutional credit. For integrated watershed management programme (IWMP), the state has requested the Centre to increase the latter’s share in the total expenditure of Rs.5,000 crore. For Vidarbha and Marathwada, the state has identified certain projects, especially in the regions that witnessed several farmer suicides, and sought Rs.7,000 crore from the Centre.The state, Fadnavis said, is also looking to help more farmers with credit and is working on a plan to reschedule the debts of farmers who defaulted due to the 2012 drought. “We want to bring 20 lakh farmers under the credit system and we need a boost of Rs.15,000 crore from the Centre to provide them institutional credit. This will help farmers in the kharif season to increase their output. For rescheduling debts of farmers, we have requested Rs.2,500-3,000 crore from the Centre,” said Fadnavis.

28,000 villages of Maharashtra hit by drought, CM Fadnavis seeks increased funding

Battling drought in 28,000 villages, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday sought increased funding for several central schemes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the situation in the state with him.Fadnavis, however, declined to share information on how much money the state has asked for from the Centre. He said overall 28,000 villages have been hit by drought in the state across 20-22 districts. This includes the entire Marathwada region, West Vidarbha, districts of Ahmednagar, Solpaur and Sangli to an extent.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”In fresh scenario, the magnitude of the drought has increased and 11,000 more villages have been affected,” he told reporters after the meeting with Modi. The Prime Minister called for focus on medium and long term solutions for drought-proofing.”CM @Dev_Fadnavis & I held wide-ranging discussions on the drought in parts of Maharashtra & how to mitigate it,” Modi tweeted. “Stressed on vitality of increasing water use efficiency through sprinkler & drip irrigation including in sugarcane cultivation,” he added.In another tweet, the Prime Minister said, “Usage of modern solid & liquid waste management practices in urban areas will also benefit the adjoining rural areas.” Fadnavis said the state government has chalked out a plan to tackle drought situation in Marathwada and Vidarbha, which includes creation of a “guaranteed irrigation” plan over the next 2-3 years.An additional plan to have better water management system in Western Maharashtra was presented to the Centre, he said, adding the state has demanded Rs 7500 for these two projects. “We have been allowed to send a supplementary proposal for relief now. We also did a presentation on what pre-monsoon work that could be done in the coming six-weeks. This includes de-silting work at several places, improvement of structures,” Fadnavis said, adding that a long term plan to combat with drought was also presented to the PM.”It is for the first time that the Centre sanctioned highest ever relief to the state. We has initially asked for Rs 4500 crore, but the Centre sanctioned over Rs 3000 crore, the highest ever in the state’s history. Of this, Rs 2500 crore has already been disbrused.

Marathwada’s drought: Makeshift camps offer makeshift solace to migrants

From a distance, the municipal ground at Bhatwadi in Ghatkopar in Mumbai does not look any different from the few open spaces that manage to survive the onslaught of a space-starved metropolis. But over the past couple of weeks, the ground has become the centre of attention and is buzzing with activity.

Hidden behind a large municipal water tanker is a sign that announces the existence of a camp for distress migrants from the region of Marathwada in Maharashtra. As the morning sun grows harsher, municipal workers clean the ground and fumigate the area while senior officials look on. While the BMC workers claim that they have been cleaning the ground for the past month,  the migrants say that the civic body arrived and the camp was set up only after media coverage.

In a small tent, a woman checks the growing list of people who have left their villages in the hope of a marginally better life. Journalists and photographers saunter around, armed with notebooks and camera tripods. A concerned woman — speaking fluent Gujarati one minute and equally fluent Marathi the next — brings theplas. An 11-year-old boy named Sachin offers water to his six-month-old brother in the scorching heat in a 6×8 brick-marked area allotted to them, while his parents are away working at a construction site. He later joins the queue where food is being distributed.

Women wait to fill vessels with water

Women in Marathwada wait to fill vessels with water. Firstpost/Neerad Pandharipande

Five-year-old Sheela helps her teenage sister to store buckets for the day after a quick trip to the water tanker. Outside the ground, kids gather around a man who is distributing a handful of brand new notebooks. A few metres away, a group of local boys play cricket with a tennis ball and argue over who will bat first. For them, the drought is not a set of prime-time television news visuals, but a neighbourhood reality.

While there has been much media fanfare this year on migration from Marathwada to Mumbai, this is by no means the first year that this has happened. Most of the migrants are from Nanded, Jalna and Latur as the districts have witnessed a huge amount of migration of the young population over the past couple of years. This has been due to water scarcity, unemployment and lack of resourcesSome have made Mumbai their second home, and have been coming to Ghatkopar for more than two decades.

One of them is Devidas Rathod from Mukhed, who says that he has been coming to Mumbai for 25 years. He comes to Mumbai for a few months and then heads back once the monsoon starts. “I own a couple of acres of land in my village. But this year, the monsoon was not enough and the crops failed. So, I have been here since Diwali, working as a labourer. While my elder son had initially stayed back in the village, a few months earlier, he called me and said he would not able to survive there. So, I called him over to Mumbai as well.”

Shrikant Gavit, coordinator of the camp, said: “These people have arrived after Diwali. With every new entry, we note their details, allot them a place and a name plate. Accordingly we distribute them basic supplies. Initially there were only 156 families, but since we have started distributing food and water, the number shot up to 325 in 10 days. Thanks to the donors, each family has received almost 20 kg of rice, oil, mats, tarpaulin sheets.”

But life at the municipal ground at Bhatwadi has its own set of challenges. Contractors who take labourers to work sites generally pick the ones whom they know personally, because of which new entrants find it difficult to find work. Each day spent without finding work makes the already dire situation even worse. There is competition from locals, as well as migrants from other parts of the country.

The vulnerability of the migrants is compounded by the fact that they are, in the eyes of the law, encroachers on public land. After some probing, the women residing in the camp said that they were initially being asked to pay Rs 200-300 per head by the local goons for living in the settlement.

Mayuri Rathod, 23-year-old from Mukhed, said: “I have been living here for the past 20 years. Till now we used to pay for land and water. The local goons used to harass us if we did not comply. They used to come in at any time at night and trouble us. A woman was hit at night once while she was on her way to the toilet. This has stopped only from the past 10-15 days since the camp has been set up. After we approached the police, the goons have stopped extorting money. In the past 20 years, never once was a camp erected here. Only when the media paid attention, they have started providing us free food and water. But I’m sure this won’t last for long.”

However, the local police have rubbished these incidents as rumours.

A senior police official said, “A police chowky was set up near the ground in August. After this, the police have been regularly looking after the security of the migrants. The claims of incidents of assault are not true.”

Marathwada-logo

As the number of migrants increase, local political leaders have undertaken relief work in terms of providing food and shelter. This includes Mumbai North-East MP Kirit Somaiya and Ghatkopar (West) MLA Ram Kadam. Speaking to Firstpost, Kadam said, “This is an attempt to do some good work. My objective is not to gain any publicity from it.”

Even as the media has been criticised for responding late to the drought in Marathwada, it appears to have indirectly helped to bring some measure of relief to the migrants. But what could be a plausible long-term solution remains to be seen.

Marathwada drought: With water level at 2%, dams close to running dry

Adding to plight of the 19 million population of Marathwada, the severity of the water crisis in Maharashtra has deepened with only two percent of water left in dams of the drought-hit region. The live water storage in Marathwada’s three big dams is down to 116 million cubic metre (mcum), down from the 134.28 mcum last week,  Hindustan Times reported.

The other eight dams, according to a report by The Times of India, are at dead storage level. The Manjara and Lower Terna dams have run totally dry. On 19 April, there was just three percent of water left in the dams, which prompted the state government to ban digging of borewells below 200 feet.

Drought_featuredDrought_featuredWater Supply and Sanitation Minister Babanrao Lonikar had said any violation of the decision on borewells will invite action under the ‘Maharashtra Groundwater Development and Management Act’ where violators may face fine or even imprisonment.

“The provisions of the act concerned has to be implemented strictly due to the severe drought conditions prevalent and the depletion of water stock. We have spoken to all senior officials and decided to ban the digging of borewells below 200 feet,” had Lonikar told reporters.

Negligent administration, poor water management, extreme weather events and inadequate rainfall have been blamed for the drought situation in Marathwada.

Marathwada, home to many sugar mills in Maharashtra, is one of the several regions in India that received below-average June-September rains in 2015.

Despite help trickling in to improve the conditions, adequate relief is yet to be brought to the region.

In the first three weeks of April 2016 itself, 65 farmers were reported to have committed suicide.

On 26 April, the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court had asked Maharashtra to cut the water supply by 50 percent to liquor firms immediately and cut supply by another 10 percent from 10 May.

Apart from breweries and distilleries, the court had also increased the water cut for other industrial units by 5 percent from the initial 20 percent starting 20 May.

Eknath Khadse, Maharashtra’s agriculture minister, has said the state was also planning to restrict cane cultivation and propose a five-year ban on new mills in Marathwada to conserve water.

Meanwhile, central teams have planned to study drought-affected areas in the country till June this year and prepare a long-term plan of possible actions to tackle the calamity.

The Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) teams have been asked to analyse the causes leading to drought in these areas and identify water resources management challenges.

The teams are expected to figure out gaps in water information and plans to recharge, long-run solutions and suggest measures for protection, management and restoration of water bodies.

With inputs from agencies

Maharashtra drought: Arvind Kejriwal congratulates Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu for ‘commendable job’

Arvind Kejriwal and the BJP don’t see eye to eye most of the time but the AAP leader took to Twitter to congratulate Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. He wrote on Twitter:Suresh Prabhu’s tenure as railway minister has often been celebrated for his proactive handling of issues. While trains have made their way to Latur in drought-hit Marathwada, the Indian Railways has also come to the rescue of the scarcity-hit towns of Thane and Navi Mumbai.To tackle the acute drought in Latur, the railways launched the Jaldoot or water trains which are regularly supplying 50 lakh litres of drinking water.Two specials trains with 50 wagons were dispatched to the area, the water was filled from rivers in Miraj in Sangli district, 350 km away. Railway officials told dna that the trip would continue till June or till the time the monsoon arrives. It now takes seven hours for the train to reach Latur from Miraj, another 3-4 hours to unload the water and six hours to get it back to Miraj.

Maharashtra Drought: Airbus A-380 won’t get water cannon salute at Mumbai airport

In order to avoid water wastage in drought-hit Maharashtra, Mumbai airport authorities have decided to not carry out a water canon salute for the Airbus A-380, a globally-followed practice for welcoming a new flight.The Airbus A-380 by Etihad Airways will start flying to Mumbai from May 1 onwards. According to an English daily, the decision was taken as top officials felt any wastage of water in the state would not be taken kindly. However, the airport management is expected to come up with another way to welcome the aircraft.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>World over, when a prestigious new aircraft is deployed on a route or when an airline starts a new operation, a water canon welcome is given from two fire tenders when the aircraft lands at the destination airport.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: Not aware of 10,000 litres of water used for helipad, says Eknath KhadseWhile Emirates and Singapore Airlines (SIA) already operate the double-decker aircraft to Mumbai, Etihad is the third international airline to join the list. Once this route is operational, Mumbai would become the biggest operator of the A-380 in India.Incidentally, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered IPL matches that were to be played in Maharashtra to be shifted outside the state from May 1, due to the serious drought situation.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: 65 farmers in Marathwada commit suicide in first three weeks of AprilIn other incidents, R-City mall in Mumbai had to cancel their bike washing event recently, after they faced a severe backlash on social media. Other politicians have been criticised for water being wasted on watering helicopter landing sites.

Marathwada drought: 65 farmer suicides reported in April, highest in Beed

Negligent administration, poor water management, extreme weather events, inadequate rainfall have been blamed for the drought in Marathwada. Help has trickled in, but not enough to make a difference. Trains with 50 wagons carrying 25 lakh litre water to Latur have been ceremoniously named Jaldoot Express. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has assured more water rakes for drought-hit Latur. Even Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had promised help when the first train was sent to Latur. But the number of farmers’ suicides reported in the first three weeks of April in Marathwada reveals that relief is nowhere in sight.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

As many as 65 farmers in Marathwada have committed suicide in April, reported The Times Of India. It further said that the highest number of suicides was reported from Beed – 60, followed by Aurangabad and Nanded. Latur reported 44 farmer suicides. Burdened with crippling debt and three years of drought, over 300 farmers have ended their lives this year. Farmer suicides were also reported from Osmanabad, Jalna, Parbhani and Hingoli districts.

District administration officials have instructed health care workers and doctors to extend help to distressed farmers and “boost the morale of farmers.” Officials told The Times Of India that 146 cases are eligible for compensation, 117 cases are pending and around 75 claims have been rejected so far.

Meanwhile, central teams will study drought-affected areas in the country till June this year and prepare a long-term plan of possible actions to tackle the calamity. The Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) teams have been asked to analyse the causes leading to drought in these areas and identify water resources management challenges.

The teams will also figure out gaps in water information and plans to recharge, long-run solutions and suggest measures for protection, management and restoration of water bodies, the statement said.

According to a DNA report, two new water rakes would be deployed on a shorter route to Latur. Water from Dudhana river will be sent to Latur via Partur instead of Miraj.

The Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday ordered 50 percent water cuts for breweries in Marathwada from 10 May. A bench of Justices SS Shinde and Santeetrao Patil said that it was inhuman that breweries were enjoying a lavish supply of water, when people had not seen water for days.

Apart from breweries and distilleries, the court has also increased the water cut for other industrial units by 5 percent from the initial 20 percent starting 20 May.

With inputs from PTI

Marathwada drought: Bombay HC orders 50% water cuts for breweries in the region

The breweries in water-starved Marathwada region will have to face 50 percent water cut from Wednesday and further 10 percent cut from 10 May, following the directions passed by the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, as per the report by The Hindu.

People waiting for water tankers in Latur. aajlatur.com

People waiting for water tankers in Latur. aajlatur.com

Expressing concern over the dire state of water crisis, a bench of Justices SS Shinde and Santeetrao Patil said that it was inhuman that breweries were enjoying a lavish supply of water, when people had not seen water for days.

Apart from breweries and distilleries, the court has also upped the water cut for other industrial units by 5 percent from the initial 20 percent starting 20 May, says the report.

However, indicating that water cuts may trigger layoffs in the coming days destroying the livelihood of nearly one lakh people, Ashish Garde, president, Chamber of Marathwada Industries and Agriculture (CMIA), was quoted as saying in The Indian Express: “The cut is more symbolic. At the moment, there is no proper plan of even transporting water saved from industries to any surrounding village in dire need. A marginal reduction of 10-20 per cent would have helped industries run smoothly, but such a huge water cut will have a direct impact on production.”

Breweries in Aurangabad, including major brands such as Fosters, Carlsberg and Kingfisher, together require 5.207 mld water, states the report.

The Marathwada Association of Small Scale Industries and Agriculture along with CMIA had on Monday filed a civil application in which they said the water cuts could impact the region’s economy as the breweries in Aurangabad employ about 3,560 people and pay a yearly excise duty of Rs 3,472.76 crore to the state government, with a cumulative production of 382.04 million litres, the report states.

Water crisis: Trafficking risk rises as villagers flee drought hit areas

The worst drought in decades across several states in India is forcing tens of thousands of people to migrate from rural areas in search of water, food and jobs, increasing the risk that they may be trafficked or exploited, activists said.About 330 million people, almost a quarter of the country’s population, are now affected by drought, the government estimates. Destitute women, children and older family members left behind in the villages are most at risk of exploitation.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”People in the rural areas have always been vulnerable because they want better jobs, better lives,” said Mangala Daithankar at non-profit Social Action for Association and Development in Pune, in western Maharashtra state.
ALSO READ Maharashtra: 700 drought-hit farmers living in ‘houses’ with no walls or roof”The drought has aggravated the situation because they are so desperate now. They have absolutely nothing,” said Daithankar, who has worked in the state’s drought-hit Marathwada region for about two decades.Maharashtra is one of the worst affected states, with successive years of poor rainfall ravaging crops, killing livestock, drying up reservoirs and forcing farmers into indebtedness that has led to thousands of suicides.
ALSO READ Over 100 activists write to PM Modi over drought situation, ask him to implement relief measuresIn the state’s Jalna district, scores of villages house only destitute women and children left in the care of older relatives who keep an eye on their homes and parched fields.”There’s no water, so there are no jobs to be had on the fields and no food to feed their families,” said Vishwanath Todkar at non-profit Paryay in Osmanabad district, which is helping build water management systems in some villages.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: Now, 11-year-old dies fetching water from well in Beed district”The women and children are particularly vulnerable, as there is no one looking out for them,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.MASSIVE DISTRESSMen and their wives have moved to cities including Mumbai and Pune in search of jobs on construction sites and as day labourers, sleeping under flyovers and on pavements. Some have been reduced to begging on the streets, activists say.Others, with their families, have been lured to work for little money in harsh conditions in one of the hundreds of brick kilns in the state. Many single women and widows have been trafficked into prostitution in the cities.”Disasters are the ground zero for trafficking,” said Dhananjay Tingal, executive director at Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), which says it has rescued more than 85,000 children from modern slavery in India.”Everyone’s so focused on just getting by, that they are easy prey,” he said.A police spokesman in Mumbai said police had not found cases of drought-related human trafficking but were aware of the rise in migration and remained vigilant.Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged a nationwide drive to conserve water, but activists and economists have slammed the government’s lack of “compassion” on the issue.In an open letter to Modi, 170 activists, academics and economists said the drought had resulted in “massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties”.In Maharashtra, among the wealthiest states in the country, the drought has not stemmed the flow of migrants from neighbouring Karnataka state and elsewhere, seeking work. The drought has hit an estimated 10 million people in Karnataka.In some places the drought is spurring the migration of entire families, including the elderly and children who would traditionally have been left behind, activists say.”The crisis is by far the worst the region has seen in many years. There is no fodder, no water and no agriculture in the region as of now,” said Amlan Aditya Biswas, regional commissioner in Gulbarga in North Karnataka.”We are concerned about the spurt in migration,” he said.The state government is working on building farm ponds and de-silting tanks in the hope that the monsoon rains in June will fill them and provide some relief to small farmers, he said.For now, those left behind in the villages are tending to their fields, digging wells and laying down drip irrigation systems as they await the monsoon rains – which are expected to be above average this year, easing some fears.”It all depends now on the rains,” said Daithankar. “People will come back to the villages if the rains are good. Otherwise there is nothing for them to come back to.”

JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar deplaned after alleging that man tried to strangle him

Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar on Sunday alleged that a man tried to strangulate him inside a Jet Airways aircraft.

He further alleged that the Jet Airways staff refused to take action against the man who assaulted him. Reports said that both, Kumar and the man who allegedly assaulted him, were deplaned after the clash.

The student leader, who was on way to Pune this morning to address an event in Mumbai, claimed his assailant was a BJP supporter called Manas Deka, who works with the TCS.

According to a report in Hindustan Times, Jet Airways issued a statement but did not respond to Kanhaiya’s charges against them. “Some guests on board this morning’s flight Jet Airways fight 9W 618 Mumbai to Pune have been off loaded at Mumbai airport in the interest of operational safety.” Police carried out an initial probe and revealed that it was not a case of assault but the two pushed each other over a petty argument.

Kanhaiya’s allegation comes just a day after he had lashed out at the Narendra Modi dispensation, terming it a “government of selfies and jumlas” as he pushed for enactment of a law to prevent caste-based prejudice in educational institutions.

Kanhaiya Kumar alleged that a man tried to strangulate him inside a Jet Airways aircraft. PTI

Kanhaiya Kumar alleged that a man tried to strangulate him inside a Jet Airways aircraft. PTI

The JNUSU President, who hit headlines after being arrested on charges of sedition in the aftermath of an event at the JNU campus where alleged anti-India slogans were raised, had gone hammer and tongs against the NDA-led Centre and its pet projects.

“The Modi government is coining only jumlas (idiomatic expressions) such as Make in India, which should actually be Fake in India; Stand Up India, Start Up India, Selfie with Daughter etc. It has become a government of selfies and ‘jumlas’.

“The reality is these are only tall promises by which the government is fooling the public as nothing positive was coming off the ground,” he had said.

The 29-year-old was speaking on the topic ‘Student-Youth Assembly Against Discrimination’ at an event in suburban Tilak Nagar.

Kumar had said that at a time when entire Marathwada region in Maharashtra was reeling under drought, “RSS-led government” was busy holding IPL matches in the state.

“I heard a wax statue of Modiji has been carved out. I also heard a 12-year old girl in Marathwada died as she ventured out to fetch water in scorching heat. Let that wax statue of Modiji be put in Marathwada,” he had said.

Kumar, who had earlier ruled out campaigning in the West Bengal and Kerala Assembly polls, has now decided to support a fellow JNU comrade who is in the fray for the 16 May elections in Kerala, according to PTI.

Ever since he walked out of Tihar jail, Kumar had been maintaining he was a student and not a “politician” and that he had no plans of campaigning in the Assembly polls.

However, he said that he decided to join the campaign after Muhammed Muhassin, CPI candidate for Pattambi seat in Palakkad, mooted the idea. “He has stood by me, so I decided to hit the campaign trail,” Kanhaiya said.

With inputs from PTI

Modi government all about ‘selfies and jumlas’, says Kanhaiya Kumar

JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar on Saturday came down heavily on the Narendra Modi dispensation, terming it a “Government of selfies and jumlas” as he pushed for enactment of a law to prevent caste-based prejudice in educational institutions.The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) President who hit headlines after being arrested on charges of sedition in the aftermath of an event at the JNU campus where alleged anti-India slogans were raised, went hammer and tongs against the NDA-led Centre and its pet projects.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The Modi government is coining only jumlas (idiomatic expressions) such as Make in India, which should actually be Fake in India; Stand Up India, Start Up India, Selfie with Daughter etc. It has become a government of selfies and ‘jumlas’.”The reality is these are only tall promises by which the government is fooling the public as nothing positive was coming off the ground,” he said.The 29-year-old was speaking on the topic ‘Student-Youth Assembly Against Discrimination’ at an event in suburban Tilak Nagar.Kumar said at a time when entire Marathwada region in Maharashtra was reeling under drought, “RSS-led government” was busy holding IPL matches in the state.”I heard a wax statue of Modiji has been carved out. I also heard a 12-year old girl in Marathwada died as she ventured out to fetch water in scorching heat. Let that wax statue of Modiji be put in Marathwada,” he said.Kumar, on his first visit to the metropolis after being granted bail in the sedition case, also touched upon issues related to Mumbai during his 50-minute speech mixed with sarcastic jibes and hard-hitting words.He said the government should pay some attention to improve commuting in suburban trains, which are usually overcrowded leading to death of passengers many a time.The JNU leader said it was high time “Brahminical system” was rooted out and an egalitarian society established in the country.”I am not against Brahmins or any particular caste. But I am against social structure built around Brahminical system and Manuvaad. I want an end of this system and its replacement by Babasaheb Ambekar’s vision (of casteless) society,” he said.He slammed those who were asking Muslims to prove their nationalism and trying to determine the food habits of the countrymen.These issues are being seen with an eye on the next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, he said.Kumar pitched for a new law, ‘Rohith Act’, to stop caste-based discrimination in educational institutions, a demand made in the wake of suicide by Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad University in January.

IMD weather forecast: West Bengal, Bihar maybe relieved from heatwave over weekend

With several parts of the country recording above normal temperatures, the summer of 2016 could possibly be the hottest summer.While heatwave has already claimed 150 lives in India so far, according to a forecast by Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the areas of West Bengal and Bihar may get some relief from the condition, on Saturday.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The forecast suggests that states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur may experience heavy showers, however, regions of Marathwada, Vidarbha, Telangana and Odisha would suffer due to rising temperatures.The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA) had already termed March 2016 as the ‘hottest March’ so far. The maximum temperature in few places of Jharkhand were higher by over 5.1 degree Celsius on Thursday, with Titlagarh in Odisha recording the maximum temperature of 47 degree celsius.Director General of IMD, Laxman Singh Rathore, on Thursday said, “If you also look at the summer temperature until now, it looks that 2016 summer will be hottest.” It was earlier declared that 2015 was the hottest year recorded.Though, temperatures above 40 degree Celsius and heat wave conditions are generally witnessed in May, according to MeT experts. But, the mercury has already crossed 45 degree mark this year in April. This abnormal weather conditions have been attributed to El Nino effect, which is expected to weaken in the coming months.

Maharashtra: 7 out of 11 major irrigation dams have no water left

Out of 11 major irrigation dams in the drought-hit Maharashtra, seven have no water left in them, official figures revealed.According to the latest Water Resources Department data for the week ending April 15, only three per cent of water stock is available in all the 814 major, medium and minor irrigation projects in parched Marathwada region.The seven major irrigation dams of Marathwada where water stock is ‘zero’ per cent are — Jayakwadi, Purna Siddheshwar, Majalgaon, Manjra, Lower Terna, Mannar and Sina Kolegaon — located in Aurangabad, Parbhani, Beed, Nanded and Osmanabad districts.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Besides, Purna Yeldari dam in the region has a water stock of two per cent, Upper Penganga 10 per cent, Vishnupuri 7% and Lower Dudhana has 18%, the data showed.The 75 minor irrigation dams in Marathwada have just four per cent water stock, while 728 minor irrigation projects are left with paltry three per cent.
ALSO READ Sachin Tendulkar collaborates with PepsiCo to tackle Maharashtra droughtBattling the acute water scarcity in various parts of the tate, the department has deployed 4,356 tankers across Maharashtra to supply drinking water.Out of these, 52 tankers are deployed in Konkan, 831 in Nashik, 303 in Pune, 3,032 in Aurangabad, 131 in Amravati and seven in Nagpur division.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: Now, 11-year-old dies fetching water from well in Beed districtMeanwhile, after nine trips by a 10-wagon water train, a 50-wagon water train, christened ‘Jaldoot’, carrying 25 lakh litres water yesterday reached worst-hit Latur.According to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, so far, 70 lakh litres has been delivered by train to Latur. The train came as a big relief for Latur citizens who have been struggling to get drinking water.

Maharashtra drought: Now, 11-year-old dies fetching water from well in Beed district

In the second drought fatality in a span of two days, an 11-year-old boy died while fetching water from a well in drought-hit Beed district of Marathwada on Thursday.Sachin Gopinath Kedar of Veeda village in Kej teshil was fetching water from a well, half-a-kilometre from his home, when he slipped and fell to his death, a police official said.On Tuesday, a 12-year-old girl died due to heat stroke in Beed district, while fetching water from an almost dry handpump.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Yogita Ashok Desai, a resident of Sabalkhed village in Beed, was dehydrated after she made five attempts to fill water from a hand pump when the day’s temperature was 44 degrees Celsius.
ALSO READ Sachin Tendulkar collaborates with PepsiCo to tackle Maharashtra droughtDue to water scarcity in Marathwada, each member of the family, especially children, are compelled to make multiple trips to water tanks and hand pumps in the sweltering heat.Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner Umakant Dangat said only three per cent water is left in dams in the parched Marathwada region.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: 12-year-old dies of heat stroke while fetching water for familyEight of the region’s 11 major dams are at dead storage level implying water from these dams cannot flow out but has to be lifted.This is a drastic decline in water storage as at this time last year, the level in Marathwada’s dams was much higher at 11%, Dangat said.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: Only 3% water left in Marathwada dams, 19% in stateAs many as 2,745 water tankers are being used in the region compared to 939 this time last year. The Aurangabad Collector has already announced a 20% water cut to local breweries and a 10% overall cut to local industry.

Maharashtra’s brand ambassador for education is a chaiwala

This is one news that can make Prime Minister Narendra Modi feel proud of. The BJP-led government in Maharashtra, in order to give higher and technical studies a push, on Wednesday, appointed a road-side ‘chaiwala’ as its education brand ambassador.After a series of controversies involving actors Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, who were brand ambassadors for various schemes, Fadnavis government has perhaps decided to play safe by picking a layman, instead of a celebrity, to strike a chord with the youngsters and motivate them in dreaming big.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Somnath Giram (30), a Pune-based tea-seller, had recently hogged limelight when he cleared chartered accountancy (CA), beating all odds. Son of a humble farmer from Solapur district, Somnath, had left home in 2008 when pursing BCom became impossible for want of funds.”As an ambassador, he will be visiting universities and sharing his experiences with students on how to ‘earn and learn’,” said Sidharth Kharat, deputy secretary, higher education department, adding that the success story of this chaiwala is truly inspiring.Higher and technical education sector in Maharashtra has been in distress for the past few years. While colleges and varsities are accused of imparting inferior quality education, several colleges, including engineering and management ones, are closing down every year as students simply can’t afford them. Drought in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions and global economic slowdown also abetted to the growing number of dropouts, say professors.With Giram’s inspiring success story of “earn and learn”, the Fadnavis government hopes to encourage those youngsters who struggle for funds to complete their higher education.Speaking to dna over phone, an ecstatic Somnath said, “It was in 2008 that I landed in Pune with an empty pocket and no skill to try hands on. I managed to open a small chai tapri (tea-stall) in Sadashiv Peth area. The business grew along with my desire to pursue higher studies. I sat late into nights, studying.”Somnath used to earn Rs10,000-12,000 a month but most of it used to go in rent. “I used to hire people during my exams, which reduced my profit margin. But my aim was clear. I wanted to study as I realised it was the only option which can change my life,” he said.The determined boy gradually completed his BCom, MCom and then CA which has success rate of less than 5%, that too mostly with self-study. Somnath has now started practicing as CA at a rented office in Pune. “I have hired a boy to run my tea stall now,” Somnath tells with great proud.”But with the new responsibility of brand ambassador, I am a bit worried. I don’t know how to give speeches,” he laughs. When asked if he would like to become a politician, as a chaiwala has become the prime minister, Somnath doesn’t hide his ambitions. “I would love to join politics. Don’t know if I can become PM but I can dream of becoming finance minister of Maharashtra.”

Maharashtra drought: 12-year-old dies of heat stroke while fetching water for family

A 12-year-old girl in drought-hit area of Maharashtra’s Beed district in Marathwada region died due to heat stroke on Tuesday.The incident reportedly took place when the class 5 student, Yogita Ashok Desai had gone to fill water from the nearest hand pump, which was 500 metres away from her house. The girl was a resident of Sablkhed village and was also suffering from dysentery for a few days.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to NDTV, the girl was dehydrated after she made four trips to fill water. However, she collapsed on her fifth trip to the water pump.
ALSO READ Maharashtra: Pankaja Munde clicks selfies in drought-hit Latur, faces flak for ‘insensitivity’The doctor who attended to her said that she died of a heart attack and dehydration. The government has said that 33 crore people in 2.5 lakh villages in the country are facing water shortage.Several parts of India are reeling under high temperatures and more than 110 people have succumbed due to sunstrokes.
ALSO READ Maharashtra: First full 50-wagon train carrying 25 lakh litres of water reaches LaturMeanwhile, water woes in the parched districts of Maharashtra are deepening as the water levels in dams across the state have reached a new low. Dams across the state have only 19% water left, while the dams in drought-hit Marathwada region have hit a historic low with only 3% water in the reservoirs.

Drought selfie: Former Congress minister backs Pankaja Munde; calls her ‘energetic Minister’

Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde, under fire for clicking a selfie during her visit to drought-hit Marathwada, has found support from an unlikely quarter today with a senior Congress leader saying the BJP leader snapped photo as she has done work in the region.”She took the selfie as she has done work. She is young, energetic Minister,” former minister Balasaheb Thorat said.Munde, who is Rural Development Minister, came under the line of fire from across the political spectrum for clicking selfie while she was at a village in drought-hit Latur on Sunday for reviewing the desilting work in Manjara river, which has nearly dried up.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Those criticising her should first see what they have done. Nobody seems to have noticed Pankaja is walking in the scorching sun (while taking the selfie),” Thorat told reporters at Ahmednagar.”Have those flaying her switched off air conditioners in their homes?” Thorat asked.Munde’s act of clicking selfies had come under attack from ruling ally Shiv Sena as well as the Opposition.Criticising the Minister, the Opposition Congress and the NCP had said Munde has mocked the drought-affected farmers by such a “shameful act”. Munde has defended herself saying she took pictures out of elation on seeing water in a trench in the dried up river.

Eknath Khadse, Pankaja Munde prove that ‘drought tours’ by VIPs are a waste of time

It is high time that very important people (read politicians) stop going on tours of Marathwada. These tours are ostensibly meant to study the acute water shortage but if they have thrown up any new findings, it is that the politicians are adept at making fools of themselves.

Two names come quickly to mind: Eknath Khadse and Pankaja Munde. Khadse’s helicopter trip led to thousands of litres of water being used to keep the dust down on his helipad while Munde took selfies during her tour.

Khadse justified his trip by saying that using the chopper saved time. In that case, where was the need for him to actually alight as he would have got a far better view of all the affected spots from the air? If time was such a concern, then he could have chosen to video conference instead. He would have saved the time taken to travel to the Raj Bhawan to board the chopper.

Pankaja Munde drought selfie. Image courtesy: Twitter/@PankajaMundePankaja Munde drought selfie. Image courtesy: Twitter/@PankajaMunde

Pankaja Munde drought selfie. Image courtesy: Twitter/@PankajaMunde

Khadse claimed that the water used on his helipad was non potable – the same argument the BCCI put forth regarding holding IPL matches in drought-hit Maharashtra, an argument for which the Bombay High Court gave them a rap on their knuckles. Just goes to show that authorities, typified here by Khadse, don’t care much for the courts or public opinion.

Munde’s selfies with dried-up lakes prove that her tour has not sensitised her to the gravity of the drought situation. She asserted that water meant for industries could continue to flow to the breweries because industries have their allocations. But what happens when people don’t get enough water to drink even during normal times?

Munde’s excuse for her selfies is that she was taking photos to show how the drought has affected the region. In which case, as anyone with a smartphone knows, the camera must be aimed at the affected area – the subject of the photo – and not at the person shooting the photo. The lady ought to know that her argument can be categorised as bunkum. The irony here is that she is the minister for water resources.

The people are forgiving, and that is the problem. They forgive not just these VIPs but also the brazen stealing of water from right in their midst by others with political clout. Tolerance, verging on a fatal acceptance of their situation, is at the heart of it all – something the politicos exploit to their advantage. They know India would never have its Arab Spring.

After initial assessments of the scarcity conditions, law makers need not visit villages and talukas. All they need to do is ensure that solutions are quickly found and implemented. The only benefit of a tour so far has been the water train to Latur, but similar conditions in other parts of the region haven’t led to similar solutions.

If the state was really focussed on solving the problem, then DNA‘s report from a few days ago would have resulted in some action. The publication reported that in Latur, two VIPs were receiving a lot of water: BJP MLA Subhash Deshmukh and local legislator Amit Deshmukh, son of late Vilasrao Deshmukh. Other media reports too have enough graphic detail for the government to issue memos correcting the situation. Yet, the government has stayed silent on catching culprits.

Firstpost is doing a 13-part series on the Marathwada drought. Read it here.

Marathwada’s drought: Crop insurance for farmers not adequate to cover cultivation costs

Latur: Ram Venkat Rao Hande rues the day he paid the insurance premium to safeguard his crop. In 2014, the farmer shelled out Rs 3,001 to cover the channa (chickpea) that he had cultivated on his 4.5 acres land in Ausa taluka of Latur district. Unseasonal rains destroyed the crop and after two years, he got a total of Rs 17,810, not even enough to cover the market cost of one acre of channa.

“I would have got Rs 18,000 per acre of channa just by selling it,” Hande told Firstpost. “What’s the use of insurance that doesn’t even cover my production cost?”

Farmer Ram Venkat Rao Hande with his insurance payment receipt

Farmer Ram Venkat Rao Hande with his insurance payment receipt. Photo courtesy: Tushar Dhara

Insurance, as a product to hedge against risk, is widely used to provide cover against unforeseen factors. Three years of continuous drought and extreme weather events in Marathwada has made agriculture more unpredictable, but the financial products that are meant to defray the risk are failing farmers, Firstpost found by talking to farmers and bankers.

Crops like soyabean, pulses like urad, moong and tur, rice and fruits like grapes and chikoo are usually grown in this part of Latur. Interviews with cultivators revealed that the insurance they get for crop damage doesn’t even cover the cost of cultivation.

Pradeep Sonawane has around 24 acres of land in Ausa taluka where he cultivates crops like urad, tur, jowar and grapes. The cost of cultivating one acre of urad and moong is around Rs 10,000. Soyabean is slightly higher at Rs 14,000 per acre. Last year, when unseasonal rain destroyed these crops, the amount he got was way below what he had spent in cultivating the crops.

“I got Rs 2,000 per acre for soyabean and Rs 1,500 for tur. The insurance doesn’t cover the actual cost of the crops destroyed,” Sonawane said.

For urad, a type of pulse, the premium for one acre is Rs 378 for a 100 percent coverage of Rs 6,000, in theory. But Sonawane said that he got only Rs 600-1,000 per acre.

Shivaji Sonawane, the president of the Grape Growers’ Association in Latur, feels that the reason why crop insurance cover is so low is because the likelihood of payout is much higher for agriculture.

Insurance works on the principle that the premiums collected for a particular risk category by a company will always be higher than the likelihood of an actual payout. The chance of a fire breaking out at a warehouse is much more improbable than the premiums collected for fire insurance from several warehouses. Similarly, the chance of crashing your car is remote, compared to the surety of your annual vehicle insurance payments.

But in case of agriculture, which is largely dependent on monsoons, a slight deviation from a normal monsoon means widespread destruction of crops. Either excessive or deficient or even untimely rains are enough to destroy the crops, which is what is happening in Marathwada, along with unseasonal hail.

“The reasons why we don’t get adequate cover are linked to climatic factors,” Shivaji Sonawane said. “In our case, one extreme weather event will ruin thousands of farmers. Which company wants to take that risk?”

In the case of crop insurance, some part of the premium is paid by the government. For grapes, the premium comes to Rs 18,000 per hectare, of which half is paid by the government and Rs 9,000 by the farmer. However, grape crop insurance is only for 40 days, which is less than the grape season. For instance, two years ago, Shivaji Sonawane’s insurance cover expired on 28 February and a hailstorm destroyed his crops on 5 March.

Jayanta Sinha, an independent banking consultant who was formerly the chief general manager for rural business at the State Bank of India, said that the average all India penetration of insurance is just 22 percent (of cropped area). This is the reason why premiums are high. “The sum paid out as insurance is low while premiums are high. This is the reason farmers are reluctant to purchase crop insurance,” Sinha said in an interview.

Sinha said that the government’s new insurance scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year has the potential to change things for the better. “This can be a game changer because it is assuring a lower premium and higher payouts,” Sinha said.

Under the scheme farmers will pay 2 percent premium for kharif crops, 1.5 percent for rabi and 5 percent for cash crops. The aim is to take insurance penetration to 50 percent of gross cropped area in the next two years, because the success of the scheme will depends on that. The premium percentage is based on output per hectare multiplied by the average price per hectare.

Of course, insurance is just a financial product to defray risk. The structural factors affecting Indian agriculture are deeper than that and those need to be addressed to make agriculture viable.

Shivaji suggested that one way to improve insurance is to include the cost of cultivation and 50 percent of profit on that. That would act as an incentive for farmers to continue cropping. This view was echoed by Sudhakar Shinde, a farmer and political activist who grows soyabean and pulses.

Pradeep Sonawane, on the other hand, wants opening up of the insurance sector so that a larger number of products are available to the farmer. “Let the government allow foreign companies to come in and compete with the companies operating locally. Maybe then we will get a better insurance deal.”

Marathwada-logo

Shivaji Sonawane laments that the current debates going on in the country do not feature farmers or agriculture at all. “Right now, everything in the news is about Kanhaiya and beef. What about the issues that really matter? Agriculture and the people who grow food are a vital part of the economy, but we hardly figure anywhere in the collective consciousness of the nation.”

This is the eleventh segment of a 13-part series on Marathwada’s drought.

Part 12: Climate change and its impact on the farmers of Marathwada.

Read the previous parts of the series here:

Part 1: Region is parched, impoverished and desperate, but it’s a crisis of its own making
Part 2: In the midst of severe economic downturn, private water sellers reap profits in Latur
Part 3: Drought has brought the economy down and is forcing farmers to leave the region
Part 4: Water scarcity has created a region where trust has eroded and left the social fabric frayed
Part 5: Maha has the most dams in the country, but the least effective irrigation network
Part 6: A surveyor of suicides tells the story behind the statistics and the lonely struggle of Indian farmers
Part 7: Will outreach help reduce farmer suicides?
Part 8: ‘Toothless’ laws lead to water exploitation
Part 9: Shirpur, Jal Biradari projects show impact of small local initiatives
Part 10: Why debt-ridden farmers are deemed least creditworthy

Maharashtra: Sugar factories adding to drought in Marathwada?

Despite the fact that an experts panel had recommended in its report in 1999 that the setting up of more sugar factories in Marathwada should be disallowed, the state government gave permission for 20 private sugar factories in the region in 2012 — a drought year — and it is the excessive use of water for sugarcane that has added a crippling man-made element to the drought in the region at present.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While the government has now decided to disallow the setting up of further sugar factories in the Marathwada region, which has been worst hit by a successive drought year, the damage is already visible.Sugarcane factories, in order to maximise gains from the cash crop, use an inordinate amount of water to increase production.Pradeep Purandare, a water expert from Aurangabad who has served as a member on the Marathwada Statutory Development Board, told dna that the Chitale committee had recommended in 1999 that the government should not give permission to any new sugar factory in the Marathwada region. But not only did the government in 2012 give permission to the 20 private sugar factories, 15 more proposals are pending, according to information given by a local MLA, Purandare added.He said that the time has come to ban sugarcane sowing in the region and the entire crisis at present is because of the unequal distribution of resources. He said that for the equitable distribution of water to be made possible, the use of water from the Godavari basis in Nashik and Ahmednagar should be extended to the Marathwada region and the government must ensure this as early as possible.The state government has vowed to introduce the drip irrigation method for sugarcane farming. But despite it being during the tenure of former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan that an announcement was made about drip irrigation for sugarcane being introduced in the next three years, nothing much has happened. Shivajirao Nagawade, the chairman of the federation of the cooperative sugar factories in Maharashtra, told dna that only 10% of the sugarcane in the state, at the most, is being cultivated with drip irrigation.After it was clear that the monsoon wasn’t as likely to be reliable as it was in earlier years, farmers from Solapur, Indapur in Pune district and Sangamner in Ahmednagar, for instance, have shifted to horticulture from sugarcane. Sajjan Deshmukh, who, along with his two brothers, has 110 acres of land in Barshi taluka of Solapur district, told dna that it’s only lazy farmers who shift to the water-intensive crop of sugarcane. He added that his family left sugarcane aside and went in for horticulture instead, since pomegranate fetches a good price in the market.Deshmukh also said that there are various reasons for farmers to opt for sugarcane cultivation. For instance, sugarcane is a crop which, in addition to being a cash crop, can withstand the vagaries of nature and a few other obstacles. He said that ever since manpower to work in the fields has become difficult to attain, sugarcane — being less labour-intensive — is often opted for over other crops. Plus, farmers also opt for sugarcane, the cycle for which is of 18 months, since it can match the monetary benefits of other crops due to the advantage of a ready market in sugar factories, Deshmukh added.Deshmukh also said that the water used by a farmer for growing sugarcane on one acre of land in his village is almost equivalent to the water used by a farmer to grow pomegranates on 5 to 7 acres. He also said that it is for the cooperative sugar factories to ensure that farmers use drip irrigation for sugarcane cultivation by offering incentives for the same.

Priority is to provide water for drinking purposes, not to wine factories: Maharashtra CM Fadnavis

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday justified the move to impose a 20% in water supply for breweries and distilleries in Aurangabad area, saying his government’s “first priority” is to provide water for drinking.”The government’s first priority is to give water for drinking purpose not to wine factories. I have directed the divisional commissioner and collector to cut water to breweries and distilleries,” Fadnavis said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He was speaking at a multi-religious mass marriage ceremony organised by the BJP and Shivaji Maharaj Smarak Samiti at New Monda in Jalna.Faced with acute water shortage, Aurangabad authorities in parched Marathwada region on Saturday announced 10% cut in water supply for the industrial units and 20% for breweries and distilleries in the industrial area. The CM conceded that the situation in Marathwada region is grim.Appealing to opposition parties to help government tackle drought, the CM said, “though State has debt of Rs 3.5 lakh crore, the government would not hesitate to take loan to help farmers. The government has already released a package of Rs 10,000 crore for farmers this year”.On the move to supplying water through trains to parched Latur in Marathwada region, Fadnavis said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed Railway Minister to provide water through train to Latur”. He said under Food Security Scheme, 68 lakh families have benefited.On the occasion, he announced a scheme under which Rs 25,000 will be given to a newly-wed couple belonging to SC and ST communities towards financial assistance and Rs 15,000 to those couples from Economically Backward Class (EBC) from general category.Fadnavis was accompanied by Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse, Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Co-operatives Minister Chandrakant Patil, Minister of State for Home Ram Shinde, MoS (Social Justice) Dilip Kamble and party MLAs.In his speech, Khadse, who came under flak recently after authorities in Latur district reportedly wasted 10,000 litre water for preparing a makeshift helipad for his tour, blamed media for raising “hue and cry” over a “non-issue”.”The collector there used polluted water for building the helipad but the media blew the issue out of proportion and published news,” he said.Today’s mass wedding included couples of different religions, with maximum being Hindu (406). There were 94 Buddhist couples, followed by Muslim and Christian, 14 each. They hailed from Hingoli, Nanded, Parbhani, Aurangabad and Jalna districts in Marathwada.

With reserves of less than 31% of last year, Centre plans water management guidelines for states

New Delhi: With some parts of the country facing acute water crisis, the government is likely to come out soon with a model Bill which will lay down guidelines for states on efficient management of the valuable resource by ensuring its storage. The Bill is being drafted taking into account opinions of various stakeholders and it is likely to be finalised by 15 May, Union Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar said here today.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“Drafting of the legislation is already on and the work is expected to be completed by 15 May. This is a framework law. It is not mandatory for states to adhere to it. (Water being a state subject,) states follow their own laws…

“But given the present water crisis, the country needs to follow some common practices to manage water. The Bill will be of help in this regard,” Shekhar said.

Shekhar said if need be, the ministry will consult other Union ministries before circulating the Bill among states. “It may take a month or so for us to circulate the Bill among states after the draft is finalised,” he said. Terming the present water crisis as “very serious”, Shekhar underscored a need for busting the “myth” among public that there is a “plentiful of water available in the country
and that too at free of cost”.

Referring to the water crisis in Maharashtra’s Latur district, he stressed the need for “comprehensive” thinking for water management over the next 10 years and pitched for storage of water, especially underground reserve, to avoid evaporation of the limited resource. “Although we have monsoon for a period of 90 days every year, it is only 30-35 days when we receive rainfall actually.
So we have to bear this is in mind and focus on storing water.

“We will also have to think in a very comprehensive manner about supply-demand combination. Latur has emerged as an example from which we can learn,” he said.

Latur district in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region has been witnessing acute water crisis and local authorities there have imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC near water sources in view of possibility of violence given the current grim situation. What raises concern is that water stock in 91 major reservoirs in the country has dipped to 24 percent of their total storage capacity, the government had said recently.

According to the Union Water Resources Ministry, only 37.92 billion cubic metre (BCM) of stock was available across these reservoirs for the week ending 7 April. The stock is 31 percent less than the corresponding period last year. These reservoirs have a total storage capacity of 157.799 BCM.

IMD issues heat-wave warning to eight states as death toll crosses 130

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has announced that at least eight states across the country will face heat-wave conditions over the next two days. The regions include Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gangetic West Bengal, Odisha, Marathwada, Vidarbha, Telangana, Rayalaseema and Tamil Nadu.

Central and peninsular India continued to witness the hottest April in recent years, as the death toll across the country went past 130, reports The Times of India.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Almost 100 people have died in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh due to heat wave conditions till now, while sunstroke has claimed 30 lives in Odisha, reports Skymet.

Last year, 2,035 people were killed due to heat-waves in India, reports Mint.

The temperature touched 44°C in three Telangana districts on Thursday — a day after Hyderabad broke a 43-year-old record with mercury reaching the 43°C level.

The state government in Telangana issued an alert in all districts to take precautionary measures to minimise its impact. The maximum temperature is likely to hover above 40°C in the next 24 hours in many parts of the state, an official said on Thursday.

In Karnataka — the first state to declare drought this year, at least 500 villages are now completely dependent on water supplied by tankers as there is no supply, reports NDTV.

Meanwhile, Maharashta’s Latur is now relying on waters being transported by special trains run by the state government.

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed BCCI to shift all the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches after 30 April out of Maharashtra observing that the plight of drought victims cannot be ignored.

With 2015 now the hottest year since records started being kept 135 years ago, Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian cities have heated up substantially since the 19th and 20th centuries, data from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) revealed earlier this year.

With inputs from agencies

Maharashtra drought: 3rd train ‘Jaldoot 3’ reaches Latur with 5,00,000 litres of water

In what would be a relief to Latur, the third train called ‘Jaldoot 3’ reached the drought-hit district in Marathwada region with 5,00,000 litres of water.Latur is battling the worst drought ever and the railway wagons which left from Miraj from Kota, Rajasthan are meant for supplying water to people.The Maharashtra government has lifted section 144 of CrPC in Latur, saying people were co-operating and the fights over water have stopped.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Latur has been facing a severe water shortage this year. Section 144 prohibits unlawful assembly of five or more persons at a place.Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said that Maharashtra government and Railway Ministry were working hard to bring relief to people in drought-affected region.On April 8, one of two goods trains carrying 50 wagons of water for drought-affected areas of Latur departed from Kota workshop for Miraj in Pune division.

Punjab, Odisha, West Bengal to witness heatwave like conditions next week: IMD

Night temperatures for the next week will be higher than normal, the India Meteorological Centre (IMD) on Thursday said.Vidarbha and Marathwada in Maharashtra, Telangana, parts of Rayalseema, East and west Rajasthan, Delhi and NCR region, Punjab and Haryana, Odisha and Gangetic West Bengal are likely to witness heatwave like conditions, the IMD said in a statement.”Most parts of India are likely to experience warmer than normal night temperatures during April 12-21, outside the northwestern parts (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir) which are likely to remain near normal during April 12 to 21,” the IMD said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Skymet, a private weather forecasting agency said most parts of the country are reeling under intense heatwave conditions.”Heatwave has started to grip parts of Peninsular India including Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Marathwada, Vidarbha and isolated pockets of Karnataka.”Temperatures have been above the 40 degrees mark at several places. For instance, Titlagarh in Odisha recorded its maximum as 45 degree Celsius, and Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh sizzled at 44 degree Celsius. Also, Hyderabad observed its maximum at 43 degree Celsius which is the highest in 43 years.Now, Northwest India which was observing lower maximums as compared to East and Central India is also likely to get under the grip of intense heatwave conditions, Skymet said.

Marathwada drought: Second train carrying five lakh litres water reaches Latur

Mumbai: The second special train carrying around five lakh litres of water reached drought-affected Latur in Marathwada region of Maharashtra on Wednesday evening.

The train carrying water from Miraj to Latur. PTI

File photo of the train carrying water from Miraj to Latur. PTI

The water train with 10 wagons carrying water for Latur left from Miraj in western Maharashtra this morning and took 10 hours to traverse a distance of around 350km. “The 10 wagons, each with a capacity of around 50,000 litres, were filled with water at Miraj railway station in Sangli district,” said chief spokesperson of Central Railway Narendra Patil.

The first such train reached Latur yesterday. The district administration has acquired a huge well located near Latur railway station to store the water which is then supplied to Latur town.

On 8 April, the train had left from Kota workshop for Miraj in Pune division. The second train consisting of 50 wagons is expected to be ready for water loading around 15 April, a railway official said earlier.

“As per instructions from the Ministry of Railways, Kota workshop received two goods trains consisting of 50 tank wagons each for deployment in drought-affected areas of Latur during the summer season and the trips of the trains will be arranged as per the requirement,” he said.

The carrying capacity of these wagons is 54,000 litres of water per wagon.

Maharashtra drought: Bombay HC asks BCCI to Shift IPL matches out of Maharashtra; but water woes remains

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to shift all Indian Premier League (IPL) matches out of Maharashtra after April 30.This means only six IPL matches will be played in the state, and 13, including the final, will go out. The HC passed the order to ensure that non-potable water is not wasted in maintaining grounds and pitches at stadiums.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A division bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice M S Karnik said: “We give you (BCCI) 15 days to take steps to move out the matches to venues outside the state.”The bench, in its order, said: “The stand of the state government is disturbing. On the one hand, it is saying we don’t mind shifting IPL out of Maharashtra, and, on the other, it is passing the buck on controlling the misuse of potable water to the corporation. It is a matter of record that there is scarcity of water in Maharashtra and this High Court cannot be a mute spectator.”The court noted that media reports indicated only King’s XI Punjab have shown willingness to play out of Nagpur. “We were expecting Mumbai Indians and the Pune franchisee to show readiness…,” the Bench said.Earlier in the day, the BCCI had agreed to the queries raised by the court on Tuesday, about providing donation to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund and providing non-potable water to areas suffering from scarcity.Counsel Rafiq Dada informed the court that Rs 5 crore would be paid by two IPL franchisees, Mumbai and Pune. But it would be on the basis of a court order and not on its own as it would land them in trouble with the Income-Tax department. It was also willing to supply 64 lakh litres of treated sewage water to areas specified by the government, free of cost, the counsel said.However, the petitioner, Loksatta Movement, an NGO, argued that such water is not good for irrigation and also not conducive for use by humans. It placed on record two reports indicating the same.The state government is now expected to suffer a loss of around Rs 19.5 crore in revenue because of matches moving out: “The government would not have been in favour of IPL if potable water was used for maintaining grounds and pitches. We cannot stop all recreational activities and gatherings because of a drought-like situation in the state… We rely on the good consciousness of organisers to use water properly,” the state argued.Loksatta Movement had claimed that around 40-60 lakh litres of water will be used to maintain pitches and this could instead be diverted to people facing severe water shortage in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions.

Shankaracharya is wrong, God doesn’t punish honeymooners, encourage drought, rape

“What makes human beings unique? Some say it’s language or tools. Others say it’s logical reasoning,” argues physicist Stephan Hawking before throwing in his punch line. “They obviously haven’t met many humans.”

They certainly haven’t met Shankaracharya Swami Swarupanand Saraswati.

Shankaracharya Swami Swarupanand Saraswati. Image courtesy ibnliveShankaracharya Swami Swarupanand Saraswati. Image courtesy ibnlive

Shankaracharya Swami Swarupanand Saraswati. Image courtesy ibnlive

Over the past few days, the avuncular Shankaracharya of Dwarka-Sharada Peeth has made a series of statements. All of them defy logical reasoning, established cultural beliefs and laws of karma and dharma.

Consider his latest gem. According to The Hindustan Times, the seer has blamed honeymooners for the devastating floods in Uttarakhand. “People coming from different parts of the country to holy places of Devbhoomi (Uttarakhand) for enjoyment, picnic and honeymoon led to the Kedarnath disaster. Similar incidents could happen if unholy activities are not stopped,” he said.

Ignore for a moment the insinuation that picnic is paap(sin) and honeymoon—-anything that involves sex—-is unholy. In a culture that considers Soma—perhaps a stimulant that worked as an entheogen (something that invokes the divinity within)—a Vedic god and revels in sculpture and art that celebrates coitus, not many would be inclined to believe the aforementioned acts could invoke the Almighty’s wrath, lead to cloudbursts and killer flash floods.

Even without getting into the binary of unholy and divine, it can be argued that honeymooners, assuming a large number of them had the patience and energy to trek up to Kedarnath, didn’t cause the destruction.

Flash floods in Uttarakhand killed more than 5,700 people in 2013. Most of the people were swept away because they were not informed in advance of the heavy rainfall in the Upper Himalayas. Just like the 2004 tsunami, the floods and landslide caught them by surprise, trapping thousands, killing hundreds. Also, environmental experts believe that people were swept away because the rivers were obstructed by debris of dams and the environment was damaged by unscientific development.

To think honeymooners have enough time to build dams, construct roads and carry out haphazard development during their short stay in Uttarakhand is absolutely illogical. If at all, the revellers and honeymooners lost their lives because they walked into a trap laid by nature and those guilty of systemic and sustained destruction of Uttarakhand.

To be fair, the Shankaracharya is not a physicist. He doesn’t deal in empirical evidence or logic. The only thing he believes in is faith. The only laws of action and reaction he understands is this: If your actions annoy god there will be hell to pay. That his deity will react in anger and punish you. For him god is supreme, the only rationale behind the theory of everything.

This caricaturisation of god as an entity that gets offended and doles out severe punishment is purely a human—mostly Brahminical—concept. The Almighty, in whatever form it exists for the believers, never announced itself as somebody who needs to be feared for his anger or acts of retributive destruction, like the one in Uttarakhand. It can be argued that in the absence of self-anointed messengers of god and middlemen, the Almighty might have been much more comfortable in the role of a loving, forgiving entity that watches from a distance as man and Nature interact, leading to the inevitable cycle of cause and effect, punishment and reward.

But believers like Shankaracharya find it more convenient to have someone to blame and fear, to find the hand of god in natural calamities and raise the bogey of punishment and reward in both the current and afterlife–Hawkins calls it a fantasy for those who fear the dark.

So, according to the seer, the current drought in Marathwada is because of the deification of Sai Baba, whom the Shankaracharya has been constantly vilifying. It is nobody’s case that mortals should be revered with blind faith, seen as purveyors of miracles, medical cures, sources of wealth and happiness. But, to believe that rivers dried up and monsoon failed because of what happens in Shirdi is a giant leap of irrationality. It gives a clean chit to both El Nino and those responsible for destroying Marathwada with mindless construction and avaricious exploitation of natural resources.

If Sai Baba is to blamed for the drought in Marathwada, what explains the history of famines in West Bengal and Rajasthan?

Even more illogical is his assertion that Lord Shani would get so angry because of women’s entry into a temple dedicated to him that it would lead to rape. Whatever be your faith, whether you are an agnostic or a bhakt, it is impossible to believe that the creator of this universe could be so irrational to order that women be punished for offering prayers in the Shani Shignapur temple. For god’s sake, Shani is meant to be a deity, not some misogynistic villain in a Bollywood flick.

Shani, Indians believe, is the lord of justice. In popular culture, Shanischara is considered so kind and forgiving that many urban and rural households donate a bowl of oil (mustard) and flour every Saturday with the belief that the deity will forgive their sins during the preceding week and not punish them. If you believe in the legend of Shani then it is uncharitable to this kind deity that he will punish women for absolutely no fault.

The Almighty we know is kind and forgiving. He loves everybody equally: men, women, honeymooners, celibates, revellers, picnickers, believers, idol worshipers, cult followers, kaafirs and agnostics.

To perpetuate the myth and fear of a misogynist, perpetrator of droughts, famines, hunger, thirst and rapes may not be the best form of reverence even for venerable saints.

Above normal monsoon in 2016: IMD’s good news ends drought of hope in India

Easing fears over farm and economic growth after two consecutive years of drought, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Tuesday predicted “above normal” monsoon this year.

“Monsoon rains will be above long-period average this year and the El Nino conditions will be seen diminishing by June and July,” IMD said, adding that it will come out with the second stage of prediction in June.

Releasing its monsoon forecast for the season, IMD Director General Laxman Singh Rathore said, “Monsoon will be 106 percent of the long period average (LPA). There is 94 percent probability that monsoon will be normal to excess this year. By and large, there will be fair distribution of monsoon across the country. But North-East India and South-East India, particularly Tamil Nadu, may get slightly less than normal rainfall.”

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Drought-hit Marathwada is also likely to receive “good” rainfall, Rathore added.

Anything less than 90 percent of the LPA is termed as a “deficient” monsoon and 90-96 percent of the LPA is considered as “below normal”. Monsoon is considered as “normal” if the LPA is between 96-104 percent of the LPA.

“Above normal” monsoon is between 104-110 per cent of the LPA and anything beyond 110 per cent of the LPA is considered as “excess”.

Agriculture, which contributes 15 per cent to India’s GDP and employs about 60 per cent of the country’s population, is heavily dependent on the monsoon as only 40 per cent of the cultivable area is under irrigation.

Due to poor monsoon in 2015-16 crop year (July-June), 10 states have declared drought and the Centre has sanctioned relief package of about Rs 10,000 crore to help farmers.

The forecast, which comes after two straight years of drought – is likely to boost the farm sector, which has been weighed down by subdued agriculture output and falling farmers’ income.

Two back-to-back monsoon failures, 2015 being the hottest year on record, poor post-monsoon rain, an alarming depletion of reservoirs and a heat wave that’s forecast to continue and even intensify — all this has changed the country’s water economics drastically for farmers, households, businesses and hydropower.

Monsoon IMD

On Monday India’s only private weather forecaster Skymet, said that the annual monsoon rains are likely to be above average, snapping two straight years of drought that cut farm output and farmers’ income. The July to September monsoon delivers nearly 70 percent of annual rains and waters half of India’s farmlands that lack irrigation facilities.

Monsoon rains are expected to be 105 percent above a long-term average, with a 35 percent probability of above average rainfall, Skymet had said in a statement. The El Nino effect is likely to wane after monsoon hits the southern Kerala coast by the end of May, the statement said.

Southwest monsoon chartSouthwest monsoon chartEl Nino, or warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can lead to scorching weather conditions across Asia and east Africa, but heavy rains and floods in South America.

India’s west coast and central parts will get good rains, Skymet said, bringing in relief for farmers and policy makers, who are struggling with droughts and severe water scarcity in some regions.

Above average monsoon rains play a key role in boosting demand for an array of consumer goods, as 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live in villages.

Agriculture accounts for about 14 percent of India’s $2 trillion economy, Asia’s third-biggest, but it supports two-thirds of Indian’s population.

State-run India Meteorological Department is expected to issue its forecast for this year’s monsoon rains soon.

Separately, Farm Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak said current climatic conditions indicate that El Nino is gradually fading and giving way to La Nina, indicating bountiful rains this year.

IMD ends India’s drought of hope, predicts above normal monsoon this year

Easing fears over farm and economic growth after two consecutive years of drought, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Tuesday predicted “above normal” monsoon this year.

“Monsoon rains will be above long-period average this year and the El Nino conditions will be seen diminishing by June and July,” IMD said, adding that it will come out with the second stage of prediction in June.

Releasing its monsoon forecast for the season, IMD Director General Laxman Singh Rathore said, “Monsoon will be 106 percent of the long period average (LPA). There is 94 percent probability that monsoon will be normal to excess this year. By and large, there will be fair distribution of monsoon across the country. But North-East India and South-East India, particularly Tamil Nadu, may get slightly less than normal rainfall.”

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Drought-hit Marathwada is also likely to receive “good” rainfall, Rathore added.

Anything less than 90 percent of the LPA is termed as a “deficient” monsoon and 90-96 percent of the LPA is considered as “below normal”. Monsoon is considered as “normal” if the LPA is between 96-104 percent of the LPA.

“Above normal” monsoon is between 104-110 per cent of the LPA and anything beyond 110 per cent of the LPA is considered as “excess”.

Agriculture, which contributes 15 per cent to India’s GDP and employs about 60 per cent of the country’s population, is heavily dependent on the monsoon as only 40 per cent of the cultivable area is under irrigation.

Due to poor monsoon in 2015-16 crop year (July-June), 10 states have declared drought and the Centre has sanctioned relief package of about Rs 10,000 crore to help farmers.

The forecast, which comes after two straight years of drought – is likely to boost the farm sector, which has been weighed down by subdued agriculture output and falling farmers’ income.

Two back-to-back monsoon failures, 2015 being the hottest year on record, poor post-monsoon rain, an alarming depletion of reservoirs and a heat wave that’s forecast to continue and even intensify — all this has changed the country’s water economics drastically for farmers, households, businesses and hydropower.

Monsoon IMD

On Monday India’s only private weather forecaster Skymet, said that the annual monsoon rains are likely to be above average, snapping two straight years of drought that cut farm output and farmers’ income. The July to September monsoon delivers nearly 70 percent of annual rains and waters half of India’s farmlands that lack irrigation facilities.

Monsoon rains are expected to be 105 percent above a long-term average, with a 35 percent probability of above average rainfall, Skymet had said in a statement. The El Nino effect is likely to wane after monsoon hits the southern Kerala coast by the end of May, the statement said.

Southwest monsoon chartSouthwest monsoon chartEl Nino, or warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can lead to scorching weather conditions across Asia and east Africa, but heavy rains and floods in South America.

India’s west coast and central parts will get good rains, Skymet said, bringing in relief for farmers and policy makers, who are struggling with droughts and severe water scarcity in some regions.

Above average monsoon rains play a key role in boosting demand for an array of consumer goods, as 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live in villages.

Agriculture accounts for about 14 percent of India’s $2 trillion economy, Asia’s third-biggest, but it supports two-thirds of Indian’s population.

State-run India Meteorological Department is expected to issue its forecast for this year’s monsoon rains soon.

Separately, Farm Secretary Shobhana K Pattanayak said current climatic conditions indicate that El Nino is gradually fading and giving way to La Nina, indicating bountiful rains this year.

Maharashtra water woes: Fight over water in Nashik kills 62-years-old woman

A 62-year-old woman died on Tuesday after an altercation over water in Nashik district of Maharashtra turned ugly.According to Zee24Taas, Manjulabai Waghmare had gone to fill water. However, a misunderstanding arose after one of the women was shoved aside. Following this an altercation took place which resulted in Waghmare being beaten up.Report said that the incident took place in Surgana village of Nashik.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The victim was rushed to the hospital. However, she succumbed to injuries during treatment. The police have registered an FIR under section 302.This is the first incident of death over water that has come to foray in the state this year. Even when the monsoon is nearly two months away, several parts of Maharashtra are facing severe drought and people are forced to walk miles to get water.
ALSO READ First quench Delhiites thirst then talk of Latur: Sheila Dikshit tells KejriwalEarlier in the day, a special train with 10 wagons carrying around five lakh litres of drinking water reached Maharashtra’s Latur in Marathwada region, which is battling the worst drought ever.

Marathwada drought: Will outreach help reduce farmer suicides?

Latur: Bhaurao Limbaji Raut, a farmer from Gangapur village in Latur district, was an unassuming man. The 39-year-old farmer had a family of 10 to support. Since income from agriculture was meagre, he had started a small side business of selling milk. He owned 1.5 acres of land. But, like with most farmers in Marathwada, three years of drought had taken a toll.

His father and brother were diagnosed with cancer, his niece was of marriageable age and the day-to-day expenses were increasing. He took loans to pay the bills, but was unable to repay them. He never told anyone about his financial worries: not family, nor friends. No one had a clue. Neither his body language nor speech betrayed to anyone in the close-knit village community the psychological impact of his financial liabilities.

On the morning of 14 October, 2015, Bhaurao walked to his farm before the crack of dawn, threw a noose around a branch and hung himself.

In a note that he left behind, he wrote: I am committing suicide, please don’t blame anyone for it. My debts have become too much for me to bear. I am going, please take care of my family.
Farmer-activist Sudhakar Shinde, who lives in the same village, got to know about the suicide shortly after dawn and rushed to the spot. But it was too late. “I never saw it coming. I talked to him every day, but never knew he was in so much trouble,” Shinde said in an interview with Firstpost in the fourth week of March in Latur.

Latur district has nearly 1,000 villages. In 2015, there were 106 farmer suicides spread across 100 villages. Most of the victims were male, small farmers (with less than 5 acres of land) who have taken small loans (Rs 50,000-Rs 1,50,000).

Marathwada suicide notes

But that’s not all.

Mohini Bhise, was a 21-year-old woman from Bhisewagholi village. Her father was a commission agent for a local bank. Business was lean and commissions were drying up. Although he owned 1.5 acres of land, money was scarce. Mohini’s education was stopped after Class 12. Her elder sister was married and the parents were thinking of finding a match for her. Apart from the wedding expenses, there was also the dowry to think of.

Her parents started thinking of selling the land for Rs 8-9 lakh to pay for the wedding expenses of around Rs 5 lakh and buying a smaller parcel of land with the rest of the money. Mohini started blaming herself for the family’s plight. She had a younger sister and brother who had to be educated. The parents were arguing about whether to sell the land or not.

One morning in January 2016, Bhise fixed a rope to the ceiling of her home and hung herself.

In her suicide note, she wrote: Pappa, don’t drink. Pappa, I did this because of the dowry. I never thought I would take this step, but I saved the money you would have spent on my dowry. I am happy that I saved the money for the family. This dowry system should end. Why do they ask for dowry? After my death, don’t spend any money on rituals. You do these rituals for giving peace to souls. But my soul will be in peace if you don’t conduct any rituals. Take care of my younger siblings, take care of mother.

No one knew Mohini would take this drastic step, because she didn’t show any sign of distress. She felt the only way to save her family was by ending her life.

Farmer suicides in Maharashtra in 2015

Marathwada has seen a rise in farmer suicides due to a combination of shrinking agricultural income and an inability to repay loans. Reported suicides in the eight districts comprising Marathwada jumped 570 per cent between 2012 and 2015, according to state government figures. There has been a corresponding rise in social and medical interventions to help farmers.

Sudhakar Shinde, who is conducting a survey on suicides in Latur district, revealed that not even close family members or friends are able to tell beforehand whether a person will take his or her life. The outwardly signs of mental turmoil or depression are so deeply concealed that people who interact with the eventual victims have no inkling of their state of mind.

“Not everyone who is depressed will commit suicide, and everyone who commits suicide is not necessarily depressed,” Shinde said in an interview in Latur. “No one knows what the line is when a person decides to take his own life, and no one knows when someone will cross that line.”

Shinde said it’s important to have a support structure in place, a network of people at the grassroots to talk to, who proactively reach out and talk about debt, depression and the importance of not taking one’s own life. But who to reach out to, if no one knows who the next person to take his life will be? Shinde and his team of ten visit each and every house and spend time talking to the family, friends and visitors.

Meanwhile, a pilot project in neighbouring Osmanabad district seeks to train “barefoot psychiatrists” to provide palliative medical treatment to people who are psychologically distressed. The project, which is a collaboration between two local NGOs, is training people in basic mental health concepts. They will in turn fan out in the villages, meet families and assess their distress levels on a “depression scale” that stretches from mild to severe. If a person is on the lower end of the scale they can be provided counselling by the barefoot psychiatrists. If assessed as “severe”, they will be referred to the nearest professional psychiatrist.

One of the NGOs, Society for Wellbeing Awareness and Rehabilitation (SWAR) has also started a helpline (1800 233 1434) for people who are depressed. In the last two and a half months, they have received 750 calls.

In Parbhani, Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Agricultural University attempts to provide assistance to farmers with its initiative ‘Umed’. University staff, along with local school children and volunteers, go to the worst-affected villages across Marathwada and counsel farmers about social-psychological issues like depression, water management and effective farming techniques.

Umed, which means hope in Marathi, aims to convince farmers that suicide is not the only option to escape misery. The spouses and relatives of farmers are advised to alert the university via a helpline if they sense suicidal tendencies. Over 10,000 farmers and their families have been counselled in almost 283 villages.

Marathwada-logo

Not everyone is convinced. Kusumavati from Babalgaon village in Parbhani said, “These initiatives are like temporary painkillers. I lost my nephew to drought last year, despite being counselled. Counsellors don’t repay farmer’s debt. The farmer has to do it himself.”

With inputs from Shraddha Ghatge

This is the seventh segment of a 13-part series on Marathwada’s drought.

Part 8: Lack of legal framework governing water and irrigation prompts mismanagement

Read the previous parts of the series here:

Part 1: Region is parched, impoverished and desperate, but it’s a crisis of its own making
Part 2: In the midst of severe economic downturn, private water sellers reap profits in Latur
Part 3: Drought has brought the economy down and is forcing farmers to leave the region
Part 4: Water scarcity has created a region where trust has eroded and left the social fabric frayed
Part 5: Maha has the most dams in the country, but the least effective irrigation network
Part 6: A surveyor of suicides tells the story behind the statistics and the lonely struggle of Indian farmers

First quench Delhiites thirst then talk of Latur: Sheila Dikshit tells Kejriwal

Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit on Tuesday took a jibe at her successor Arvind Kejriwal over his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering water to drought-hit Latur in Marathwada region, saying the AAP supremo should first quench the thirst of the people residing in different part of the national capital.”He should quench the thirst of Delhiites first. There are many places in Delhi itself where the people don’t get water to drink,” First provide water to the people of Delhi then talk of Latur,” Dikshit told ANI here.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Kejriwal feels it is necessary for him to comment on everything, similarly this is also a comment,” she added.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: Kejriwal offers to send 10 lakh litres of water every day to LaturLauding the Centre’s move to send railway wagons with five lakh litres of water to the parched region of Latur, Kejriwal has said the Delhi Government is ready to offer 10 lakh litres of water every day for two months.In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Modi, Kejriwal commended the Centre for helping out Latur, which is facing a severe water crisis at present, and said that it would be an embarrassment for modern India if cases of deaths were reported due to thirst.
ALSO READ Maharashtra drought: Special train with 10 wagons carrying 5 lakh litres water reaches Latur”It will be a matter of great embarrassment that if someone dies of thirst in the 21st century India. It becomes a matter of duty and responsibility for the entire nation to help Latur. The people of Delhi are ready to offer 10 lakh litres of water every day for two months in Latur. If the centre is ready to transport this water to Latur, then the Delhi government will make arrangements quickly,” the letter said.Admitting that his offer came at a time when the national capital itself was facing water shortage, Kejriwal said the terrible conditions in Latur makes it the nation’s responsibility to ensure that every possible aid is extended there.”If you agree, then an appeal can be sent to all Chief Ministers and I am sure that all states will extend their help towards this cause,” the letter added.Earlier today, the ten railway wagons with five lakh litres of water which left from Miraj Junction railway station yesterday, reached the parched region of Latur in Marathwada region.”It’s an occasion of happiness for us thanks to the government. The atmosphere here right now similar to that of Ramzan celebrations. People from all over the town have come to watch the train. We were able to disperse 200 litres of water in 15 days to the people, now thanks to the train we can do that in five to six days,” Latur Mayor Shaikh Akhtar told ANI here.Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had earlier said that the state government and the Railway Ministry were working hard to bring relief to the people in drought-affected region.

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