Two talukas, Jat & Atpadi, in Sangli district of Maharashtra face worst drought despite river Krishna flowing just 100 kms away

Drought has again hit large parts of Maharashtra this year. But the worst affected are two talukas in Sangli district


Anandrao Patil's 16-hectare orchard in Atpadi has withered as even borewells have gone dry

Anandrao Patil's 16-hectare orchard in Atpadi has withered as even borewells have gone dry

 Jat and Atpadi are facing the worst drought in decades, despite river Krishna flowing 100 km away. Analysts blame the plight on poor management of groundwater and lax attitude of the state government in extending irrigation facilities to the region that falls in the rain shadow area of the Western Ghats.

People in these talukas are adept at making do with meagre rainfall. Traditionally they grow sorghum, pearl millet and wheat that require less water. But some two decades ago, lured by the profits earned by farmers in western Sangli, which has adequate irrigation facilities from the Krishna Valley project, Jat and Atpadi farmers began growing cash crops. “Commercial cultivation of the crops forced them to over-exploit groundwater,” says Chintamani Sahasrabuddhe, bureau chief of Marathi daily Pudhari. Within years the talukas notched a place in the world map of pomegranate producing areas. But since 2005 the region has been witnessing a drastic change in rainfall pattern (see table). This year there is no rain at all. With rainfall playing truant, farmers have nearly exhausted their groundwater resources. “Till last year, only the wealthy farmers could manage their crops despite the water shortage by deepening their borewells,” says Anandrao Patil from Atpadi. “This year even they are in trouble,” he adds. Pomegranate trees on his 16 hectare orchard have dried up or withered, leading to heavy losses.

D R Jakhi, senior geologist at Sangli, says the water level could have dipped below 300 metres in Jat and Atpadi. According to Sangli Zilla Parishad, 35 of 41 farm ponds and all dug wells in the talukas have dried up since March. Even the Atpadi lake has dried up. Civic administration is now digging the silt to extract the remaining water from the water body.

“Entire plantations in villages like Nelkaranji, Kharsundi, Tadvale, Bhingewadi, Jambhulai, Zare, Hiwtad, Atpadi, Banpuri, Dighanchi and Shetfal have died,” says Sarjerao Khilari, a farmer from Kargani village. He has not seen such a severe drought in his entire life. “We have barely enough water to sustain my family and 36 livestock,” says Khilari, as he helplessly watches his orchard of 15,000 pomegranate trees dying. Ashok Deshmukh, a farmer from Hiwtad village in Atpadi, who used to earn Rs 27 to Rs 30 lakh annually from pomegranate plantation on his one hectare land, has suffered losses to the tune of Rs 40 lakh this year. Unofficial estimates put the losses faced by farmers in the blocks to the tune of Rs 110 crore.

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