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Rains cheer Maharashtra farmers

Latha Venkatraman

MUMBAI, Aug. 8

FRESH showers this week appear to have brought some relief to the agricultural scenario in Maharashtra, but much would depend on the behaviour of the monsoon season during the months of August and September, officials say.

``Rains in the last couple of days have provided a fresh lease of life to some of the standing crop, but productivity could suffer,'' Mr J.S. Saharia, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Maharashtra Government, said.

Of the total kharif area of 136.33 lakh hectares in Maharashtra, sowing has been completed to the extent of 88 per cent in 120.5 lakh hectares as on July 26.

Of the 120 lakh hectares, 20 lakh hectares have been severely affected with sowing not taking off at all in 12 of these hectares, Dr S. Joshi, Principal Secretary, Relief and Rehabilitation, said.

The near absence of rains in the month of July 2002 has prompted the Maharashtra Government to declare conditions comparable to famine. ``While rains in June were largely satisfactory barring Osmanabad and Latur, rainfall deficiency in July was to the extent of 70-95 per cent,'' Dr Joshi said.

Of the 33 districts in the State, 12 districts have received less than 50 per cent of average rainfall up until August 5, 2002. In July, Wardha received 7 per cent rainfall, Dhule 13 per cent and Ahmednagar 14 per cent.

Among the crop that may have suffered damage are jowar, bajra, moong, udad, soyabean and paddy. ``Transplanting of paddy was affected because of the dry spell. Paddy transplantation was done to the extent of 54 per cent,'' Mr Saharia said adding that rice productivity could be impacted during the current season.

Although, the fresh round of rains in August was widespread, districts of Dhule, Nandurbar, Akola, Satara and Kolhapur received less rainfall.

Sugarcane sowing has been completed to the extent of 66 per cent on 4.13 lakh hectares against the normal sown area of 6.2 lakh hectares. Cotton sowing has been completed to the extent of 82 per cent with 25.75 lakh hectares coming under cultivation against the normal average of 31.48 lakh hectares.

However, a larger concern facing the State is the possibility of a drinking water shortage on account of the erratic monsoon season. Providing drinking water takes a priority in times of crisis, Dr Joshi said.

As until August 5, water availability in the irrigation sources in the State was around 36 per cent against 40 per cent same time last year and 43 per cent in August 2000.

Of the 308 lakh hectares cultivable land in the State, just about 12-15 per cent are irrigated. While the State Government has set a target to cover 73 lakh hectares under irrigation, it has been able to complete only 36 lakh hectares so far. According to Government officials, the overwhelming demand for drinking water on account of growing population in the State, has resulted in a shortfall of irrigation facilities for six lakh hectares.

In terms of relief, the State Government will be providing Rs 1,000 per hectare to affected farmers in the form of seeds and fertilisers. The Government has set aside a sum of Rs 30-40 crore towards this disbursement. So far, it has expended Rs 1.5 crore towards seeds and fertilisers to farmers in Thane, which had experienced floods in June 2002.

According to Dr Joshi, food security would not be an issue this season because of the abundant availability of foodgrains. As regards fodder availability, this round of rains could provide some relief. Besides, the State's Forest Department has been asked to keep grass available in the forests as fodder reserves.

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