Why the Marathwada Drought Took This Long to Become National News
The drought in Marathwada and the almost Mad Max-like shortage of water in the region is not a sudden or even unforeseen phenomenon. Districts like Latur, Ahmednagar and Osmanabad have received less than 50 percent of expected rain for two years now.
Marathwada has been in drought for the last four years. A drought, of course, is a natural calamity. But our reaction to it, both in the public discourse and the (in)action of politicians, is not.
There is no “solution” to a lack of rainfall. But the situation in Marathwada has been exacerbated by inaction, especially from the legislators that were elected to be the voice of the people of the region.
The last time the region faced a drought as severe as this was in 1972, and back then, water for drinking and personal use had not been a widespread problem. Today, both homes and fields are parched. Agricultural scientists working for the government talk about solutions in an exasperated, almost resigned tone. And it’s easy to see why. We have all read the simple steps that can be taken in a dry, drought-prone area to protect farmers in geography textbooks in school.
Make better use of rainwater. Use techniques like drip irrigation. Do not use wasteful techniques like furrow irrigation.
And perhaps, most importantly, do not grow water-intensive cash crops like sugarcane. The local political economy, though, will not allow that.
The Silence of Leaders
Take Pritam Gopinath Munde, the daughter of the late BJP leader and Union Minister, Gopinath Munde. Her father owned sugarcane mills in Beed district, one of the worst affected by the drought. Pritam is the Lok Sabha MP for Beed, and her party, the BJP, is in power both in the Centre and in Maharashtra. But can we really expect her to genuinely address and advocate against a system in which she has a stake?
As late as August 2015, sugarcane farmers with large holdings were growing the crop and supplying it to the Munde family mill. Pritam’s sister Pankaja is also in the BJP, and Maharashtra’s rural development minister.
The role of politicians, including Members of Parliament, goes beyond just legislation. They are supposed to speak for their people in Parliament. Why haven’t the MPs from Marathwada been protesting on behalf of their constituents? Why haven’t they rushed to the well of the Lok Sabha, demanding action on farmer suicides?
If all of that seems like too much to ask, legislators haven’t even done the bare minimum.
The MPs from the Marathwada region cut across party lines, but they do have one thing in common: They haven’t spent the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds allotted to them by the central government.
Don’t Just Blame the Politicians
The Marathwada drought didn’t get top billing in television news till recently, even though the drought has been raging for years. It did get air-time though, once we got a chance to connect the drought with the IPL.
As it turns out, as much water as IPL stadiums in Maharashtra use, it wouldn’t even make a dent in the state’s drought woes.
It is likely that both politicians, government agencies, and the media would have reacted much more sharply if there was a drinking water shortage of this magnitude in Mumbai rather than Marathwada.