Sugarcane: how a sweet success story went sour

Mumbai, April 19: Every district in Marathwada has a ‘borewell man’, so does Latur. Harish Chandra Yerme holds the dubious distinction of having dug 63 borewells on his 40-acre Mosambi farm, some as deep as 1,000 feet even though the norms permit only 200 feet.

“These have been sunk over 10 years, and half of them are not even working. It was needed to keep the farm going in this non-irrigated belt,” says caretaker Shankar Dusnale.

The indiscriminate use of groundwater has been the bane of Latur. The number of irrigation borewells in Latur stood at 34,778 in 2007, only second after Nashik at 37,545.

As per groundwater rules, there can be only five borewell per square kilometre. This simply means, in an ideal situation, the 715 sq km of the 10 talukas should have only 3,575 bores. But the unofficial number is 90,000.

“People are not reporting these to save electricity and avoid action. This mentality of digging bores must change,” cautions MS Sheikh, in charge of the local groundwater survey and development agency (GSDA).

A 2012 GDSA report warned of over-withdrawal of groundwater in Latur and Osmanabad, “attributing to the water intensive cash crop like Sugarcane, Banana, Grapes and Oranges, which are mostly groundwater dependent”. However, even after knowing the disadvantages of irrigation borewell — low dependability of yield, low discharge and recuperation rate — farmers were still opting for it, the report said.

“Latur was never a water-sufficient zone, and the sugarcane should have never been grown here without drip irrigation. It is one of the main reasons for the scarcity. But a powerful sugar lobby kept getting incentives from the government, while oilseeds and pulses got no encouragement,” explains Ashok Bhutada, chairman of Kirti Agro Limited, a leading dealer in soyabean.

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