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By Abhishek Waghmare
Vasudev Lokhande is the beneficiary of an ambitious Maharashtra government program to permanently transform the lives of farmers devastated by a record-setting drought, but he is unhappy about its benefits.
In an agrarian eastern corner of India’s most industrialized states, Lokhande – a weathered, unsmiling farmer clad in sandals, crumpled brown pants and a dusty white shirt – pointed to little pipe that poked through the stone wall of a well on the edge of his fertile, black-soil farm, five acres of cotton and pigeon pea.
The pipe is the outlet for a channel built to funnel rainwater into the well instead of letting it soak into the ground. It is part of the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (Irrigated Farmlands Program), on which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government has spent, for its first phase, Rs.1,400 crore in 2015 to make Maharashtra dushkal-mukt, or drought-free.
For Lokhande, the government’s efforts have not worked. With rainfall over the last two years in three of the worst-affected districts that IndiaSpend visited comparable to the lowest in the 20th century, very little water made it to the well. Like many local farmers, he had to spend about Rs.30,000 to install a pipeline and a pump to bring in water from a natural pond half a km away.
“I could bear the cost of pipeline and motor,” said Lokhande. “The majority of the farmers in my village cannot.”
IndiaSpend‘s investigation of the program reveals that the government is spreading itself thin in its efforts to reach more farmers as the drought’s efforts worsen. Lokhande’s village, Ghodkhindi, is now one of 34 – up from five earlier this year – listed for the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan in Yavatmal taluka in the cotton-rich eastern district of the same name.
“When the program began, the worst-affected villages were selected,” an agriculture officer told IndiaSpend on condition of anonymity. “Later, we were told to include all the villages that were now receiving drinking water from tankers.”
While the weekly tanker data of the state’s water supply department showed no tanker supplying water to Yavatmal taluka in 2015, the district collector’s office reported 10 tankers plying in the summer of 2015, up from 3, 1 and 11 in 2014, 2013 and 2012 respectively.
The original government order mandated at least five villages per taluka, which takes the village count to 1,800. As distress spreads, that number is now up to anywhere between 2,500 and 3,000, according to a government official who requested anonymity.
As many as 1,109 farmers in Maharashtra’s water-stressed Marathwada region of eight districts ended their life in 2015, according to an Indian Express report.
Rainfall over the last two years in three of the worst-affected districts that IndiaSpend visited (in Marathwada and Vidarbha) was comparable to the lowest in the 20th century.
Nine of India’s 29 states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – declared a drought in 2015, seeking as much as Rs.20,000 crore in Central aid. The centre has given Maharashtra the highest agricultural aid: Rs.3,049 crore.
A staggering 302 of the country’s 640 districts are living with drought-like conditions. The success – or failure – of Maharashtra’s drought-proofing program is likely to be closely followed by other states.
Rain so inadequate that wells dry up in November
The purpose of Jalyukt Shivar is to irrigate the village in times of utmost scarcity. Now, state officials argued, low rainfall has crippled the program.
Maharashtra’s situation – its agricultural output is India’s second largest – is universally difficult, with rainfall, short by 40 percent in 2015, the third year of deficit (it was 30 percent short in 2014, 20 percent in 2012 and above average in 2013).
Maharashtra has India’s greatest stock of water for irrigation: 35 percent of the country’s large dams and the second-largest amount of annual water resources that can be replenished, after Uttar Pradesh.
A closer look at Ghodkhindi, farmer Lokhande’s village, reveals why the Jalyukt Shivar struggles. The village has 40 micro-irrigation projects, of which the taluka agriculture department claims to have completed 15.
A third of the households (89 of 230) in the village depend on full-time farming, while agricultural laborers comprise 42 percent (471 of 1,135) of the population, cultivating small tracts of land, according to census data.
Experts and farmers told IndiaSpend that Jalyukt Shivar uses a piecemeal approach that does not account for the geological underpinnings of traditional watershed systems. It creates two problems: it spreads itself thin by benefiting only a few farms, and, instead of a long-term measure to make an area drought-free, it offers only temporary relief.
It doesn’t help that the rainfall is now lower than the lowest that anyone remembers. But this is no longer news to swathes of Maharashtra.
Many areas now live in drought-like conditions
For the last four years, drought-like conditions have prevailed in the central Maharashtra district of Beed in the Marathwada region, once part of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s arid dominion.
The scarcity, said experts, is beyond the normal deficiency in the last 20 years. Erratic, unseasonal rainfall — unsettling India’s agriculture, economy and politics — are no aberrations, IndiaSpend reported last year.
Extreme rainfall events in central India, the core of the monsoon system, are increasing and moderate rainfall is decreasing – as a part of complex changes in local and world weather – according to a clutch of Indian and global studies.
In Maharashtra, successive years of low rainfall have resulted in falling groundwater levels and early drying of natural streams.
While the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan struggles to cope with the magnitude of Maharashtra’s rural water crisis, it has, as we shall explain subsequently, worked in some cases – mainly for farmers with large land holdings. The successes and failures indicate how the program might need to be reworked. (IANS)(http://blogs.reuters.com)
The Centre will launch a pilot project on the use of indigenously manufactured drones for delivering medicines in the undulating landscape of Jammu and surrounding areas from Saturday with a focus on vaccines delivery initially. "This is going to be a pilot project for the area. The drone is developed and manufactured entirely by our scientists," Union Minister for Science & Technology, Dr Jitendra Singh told mediapersons. Singh said he himself will be launching the project at Jammu.
The drone is developed by the scientists at Bengaluru's National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), a constituent of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an autonomous Society that is headed by the Prime Minister. For now, the delivery would be limited to Covid vaccines and once successful, it would be expanded to be used for regular delivery of medicines in the remote, hilly areas.
The drone is developed by the scientists at Bengaluru's National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL). | Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
Jammu and surrounding areas are sensitive in terms of the strategic importance. Some months ago, there was an attack on an Army installation using drones. Will the 'drones for vaccines' be permitted in such a case? Allaying fears, a top official from the Ministry of S&T said, "The drones would be deployed by authorised agencies such as hospitals, not anybody can use it, nor would any random person be permitted to use it."
NAL has called the drone as 'Octacopter' and it can fly at an operational altitude of 500 m AGL and at maximum flying speed of 36 kmph. It can be used for a variety of BVLOS applications for last mile delivery like medicines, vaccines, food, postal packets, Human organs (such as heart for heart transplantation) etc. NAL Octacopter is integrated with a powerful on-board embedded computer and latest generation sensors for versatile applications like agricultural pesticide spraying, crop monitoring, mining survey, magnetic geo survey mapping etc., S&T officials had said. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Jammu, Vaccines, Medicines, Deliver, Drones, Centre
Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan shares how he feels when people compare him with his father Amitabh Bachchan on the singing reality show 'Sa Re Ga Ma Pa'. He also requests contestant Rajshree Bag to sing a track 'Bahon Mein Chale Aao' featuring his mother Jaya Bachchan.
Abhishek said after looking at the performance of Rajshree, who is often compared with Lata Mangeshkar on the show, that she reminds him of being compared with his father. "Rajshree, whenever I have got the chance to watch the show, I've seen people compare you to Lata didi. It actually reminded me about how people compare me with my father and ask me how I feel about it."
According to him Amitabh Bachchan is a great actor in the industry and this is what he says to everyone making these comparisons. "My answer to them is that there's no greater actor in this film industry than Amitabh Bachchan and if I'm being compared to him, I am sure I must have done something good."
"Similarly, your voice has a different kind of magic like Lata ji and that's why people are comparing your voice with her. I feel you should always take this as a compliment," he concluded. 'Sa Re Ga Ma Pa' airs on Saturday and Sunday on Zee TV. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, reality show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Rajshree Bag
Winters in India have always beckoned for that hot, steaming bowl of tomato and pepper rasam or the mellow, millet based Raab. Certain dishes like sarson ka saag, undhiyu, nimona pulao are winter specialites in the country. Seasonal food has always been an Indian speciality -- we switch our choice in fruits, vegetables, sometimes even grains with the onset of different season. The preference of using specific ingredients during certain climates is visible in our sweets as well. It's common to find local and traditional delicacies made of jaggery, instead of sugar during the winters. Case in point -- the Nolen Gur Rasgulla, a speciality made in Odisha and West Bengal between November to February.
Celebrity chef, Sanjeev Kapoor, strongly advocates this need of eating seasonal produce. He says, "The beauty of our food is in our seasonal usage of fruits and vegetables. If you realise, Gajar ka halwa is made aplenty during winters as this is the season when beautiful red carrots hit the market or mango pickle is made during summer, thanks to its availability. Despite people and sometimes, even me, suggesting that we should eat fresh as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables, we do not know what chemicals are sprayed on them to keep them safe while they are growing. When this produce hits the market, there isn't a certifying agency like the FSSAI that will help people understand what vegetables and fruits are free of pesticides and germs and which ones don't. Hence, the onus lies on us to make them safe for consumption. ITC's Nimwash is a good solution."
When it comes to winters, the Chef recommends eating these fruit and vegetables:
* Purple Mogri -- Mogri or Radish pods are not a common sight throughout the country. But you can spot them during the winters in local markets in northern India where women pick them up to make raitas, curries and stir fries. Rich in magnesium, calcium and copper, the vegetable is known to aid people from digestive problems.
Mogri or Radish pods are not a common sight throughout the country, but you can spot them during the winters | Pixabay
* Sweet Potato -- A re-discovered favourite, Sweet potatoes have created a space for itself in the millennial kitchen. With its diverse addition in burgers, chips and even chat, the root vegetable is filled with nutrients such as fibres and vitamins.
Sweet potatoes have created a space for itself in the millennial kitchen. | Wikimedia Commons
* Avarekalu -- Called Hyacinth beans in English, Avarekalu is a winter speciality in the south that is added to sambhar, saagu, rotis, etc. Bangalore is famed for its Averakalu mela during the winter months, where you can find these beans in dosas, Pani puri and even Jalebis! Thronged by crowds from all over the city, the food fest is a gourmand's delight.
Called Hyacinth beans in English, Avarekalu is a winter speciality in the south that is added to sambhar, saagu, rotis, etc. | Wikimedia Commons
* Amla -- The Indian gooseberry is a common winter fruit found through the country. High in Vitamin C, it is known to be immunity building and extremely beneficial for the skin and hair. There are multiple ways to eat Amla -- it is pickled, made into a fruit preserve called as Murraba or even eaten by sprinkling salt over it.
The Indian gooseberry is a common winter fruit found through the country. | Pixabay
(Article originally published on IANSlife) (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: winter, Sanjeev Kapoor, chef, Indian gooseberry, Sweet Potato, Radish pods