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Drought alert

Mumbai, Aug 13: The Maharashtra government today declared a drought-like situation in 123 tehsils in Marathwada and Vidarbha, which witnessed less than 50 per cent of the usual rainfall this monsoon.

Speaking after the state cabinet cleared the decision, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said farmers in the area would be given 33 per cent discount on power bills of agricultural pumps, besides waivers on school fees for their children and farm levies.

He said 123 out of 355 tehsils in the state were facing water scarcity. The drought-hit districts in Marathwada are Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Osmanabad, Latur, Nanded, Parbhani and Hingoli. Chandrapur, Yavatmal and Buldhana fall in Vidarbha.

The announcement comes amid protests by the Sena-BJP-led Opposition which has been demanding that the state declare drought in the Marathawada region.

Earlier in the day, BJP leader Vinod Tawde addressed a mammoth rally in Latur to make the demand.

“This government does not care about farmers facing the drought-like conditions. Entire Marathawada region is affected by scanty rainfall, and most farmers face the prospect of second sowing,” Tawde was quoted as saying.

The government declaration is being seen as an attempt to blunt the Opposition attack. Tawde welcomed the the government announcement later. But he also demanded that the government should waive off the farm loans and provide Rs 1,000 per hectare to the affected farmers for second sowing.

Unless the government declares Marathawada drought-affected, we will not allow the CM and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar to move around in the region,” Tawde told the rally.

In another development, the cabinet put the ball in the Centre’s court on reservation demanded by the Dhangar community. “The cabinet felt that reservations for Dhangar community and other community should be included in a third separate list, and the government will make that recommendation to the Centre,” chief minister Chavan said, buying more time as the Opposition threatened to make it an issue in the Assembly elections in October.

However, the Dhangar community, which has been staging aggressive protests since July after the Congress-NCP government granted 16 per cent reservation for Marathas and 5 per cent for Muslims, rejected the cabinet decision, and threatened to intensity its agitation from tomorrow.

“The reservation for Dhangar community must be given in Scheduled Tribes category, and not a separate classification. We will resort to road and rail blocks across the state including Mumbai,” Navnath Padalkar, the convenor of the Action Committee for Dhangar Reservation, said.

Since August 1, the community has intensified its agitations across the state. Maharashtra co-operation minister Harshavardhan Patil suffered an eye injury when some Dhangar protestors splashed an ink-like substance on him last week. The Dhangar community has threatened to damage the electorial prospects of the Cong-NCP alliance in the October elections if it does not concede the demand.