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Drought has set in even before winter this year in Maharashtra. The government estimates close to 20,000 villages are affected. The situation will get worse as summer approaches. Millions of humans will be affected by acute water scarcity and its related consequences, especially for the farmers whose crops will be adversely impacted. Cattle will be worse off without sufficient fodder

Droughts ‘worse than 1972’ have repeatedly ravaged the state in recent years. What is sad is the state with one of the largest network of dams in the country has little to show in terms of water storage and distribution management.

Experts correlate repeated droughts with El Nino-Southern Oscillation events that have also been implicated in periodic declines in Indian agricultural output. To counter its effects, careful conservation and management of natural resources is required for building drought proof resilient systems in the villages.

The government could have reduced the impact of droughts with micro watershed projects in villages, but has failed to achieve the desired goals. The efforts to conserve soil, diversify crop, achieve afforestation and recharge ground water through employment generation at the village level have been plagued by political motive, inefficient delivery system and failure to understand people’s needs.

Even a layman knows that the reasons behind the frequent droughts in Maharashtra are starker than simply less rainfall. Unless the root causes are addressed, no amount of state and central assistance can banish droughts

The 1972 drought, the worst in recent times, had affected all talukas of Maharashtra, including the traditionally heavy and assured rainfall ones. The year witnessed distress migrations by even big and prosperous landholders, as no crops came to harvest and no grain was produced.

The years 1972-73-74 were tumultuous and gave birth to a Maharashtra-wide movement of toilers. A strong unity of urban and rural workers took shape to launch the Dushkal Nivaran Nirmulan Mandal, which sought a policy based on economics, agricultural science, irrigation science and a scientific viewpoint towards the water-land relationship.

Men such as Datta Deshmukh, V.M. Dandekar, V.R. Deuskar and others began the first scientific discussions on water distribution in the country. The worst drought also saw Maharashtra giving the country it’s first employment guarantee scheme. Majority of the village water tanks, nalas, bunds and small dams etc. were constructed during that drought and later during the drought of 1983-84.

On the other hand, the 1972 drought triggered another movement which was for building new dams for creating facilities for assured irrigation. This led to another movement, by those ousted by the dams, which gave birth to the first rehabilitation law in India.

One wonders if the opportunistic and myopic response of the political and administrative leadership to successive droughts will ever provide the solutions. Perhaps the solutions lie with the farmers, and the rural and urban poor, who have been suffering for too long.

The united and unique movements of the drought affected and dam affected of 1972 should serve as examples for the future.