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Sugarcane depletes Bhima
Maharashtra's second longest river, the Bhima, perhaps serves sugarcane plantations and sugar mills more than the human population of the state.
Consider this: a staggering 273 dams have been built in the Upper Bhima basin across the state and 90% of canal water diverted from such dams is used to irrigate sugarcane. Agri expert Nishikant Bhalerao says the reason for such disproportionate distribution is, “Politicians wanted to ensure sugarcane growers don't face water shortage.“
Sugar mills became the lynchpin of the state's rural economy and its politics over the decades. “Every MLA wants a sugar mill...we help them as we have to keep them (happy) with us. But today , we are suffering because of this policy ,“ said Sharad Pawar recently . Most of Pawar's satraps own two or three sugar mills.
In the last decade and a half, Maharashtra's share in sugarcane output rose from 15.6% to 21.9% while Uttar Pradesh's marginally declined. UP tops in sugarcane production in the country (38.7%) followed by Maharashtra (21.9%).
In the Upper Bhima basin, 19% of the cultivated area--more than six lakh hectare--is under sugarcane. In 2016, amid acute water shortage when Sec 144 was imposed to protect water sources in Marathwada, sugar mills continued to receive copious quantities for the cane-crushing season.
Sugarcane tracts in western Maharash tra thrive on a combination of flood irrigation and high doses of fertilizers. Water treated with chemicals remains stagnant in fields, but this process has degraded more than six lakh hectares of land, turning them saline, according to a recent study.Salinity is multiplying annually by 10% in the sugarcane belt.
The paper on `Severity of soil salinity and sodicity problems in Maharashtra and their reclamation' said salt concentration is high “owing to injudicious management of canal irrigation water“ and this is expected to reduce land productivity .
Expressing concern over excessive use of water for sugarcane, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has now directed agriculture officials to make cane growers take to drip irrigation.