Third Gandhi visits Maharashtra, but drought continues…

Mumbai, April 28: As Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi began his one-day tour of drought-hit areas of Maharashtra’s Satara district Saturday, he became the third Gandhi after his late father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi to visit the region, though little has changed there in all these decades.

Accompanied by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and other senior ministers, Rahul arrived in Satara from Mumbai by a helicopter. Satara is around 250 km south-east of the country’s commercial capital.

During the May 1987 visit by Rajiv, Chavan’s mother and party MP Premilatai Chavan had accompanied the then prime minister to the drought-hit regions.

Both Rajiv and Premilatai Chavan are no more, but the problem of acute water scarcity continues to haunt the people of this southern Maharashtra region.

Later, in 2003, Congress president Sonia Gandhi also toured the region, again raising hopes of a permanent solution to the drought crisis. But people’s hopes evaporated soon after.

Now, with Rahul visiting the region, the locals hope they might be “third-time lucky”.

“Don’t just make promises of giving water, do it…” Rahul directed officials Saturday.

Probably expecting a high-level trip, Chief Minister Chavan had last month himself visited the drought-hit areas of Satara, which also happens to be his home district, and taken stock of the situation.

Ironically, Satara is where the biggest water supply project of Maharashtra, the Koyna Dam, is located. It is also ranked among the top hydro-electric power generating stations in the country, with a capacity of 2,960 MW power per annum.

But, barely a few kilometres away, a large section of the human and animal population starves for water virtually eight months in a year. The people are mainly dependent on water tankers, or trudge many kilometres for a pot of clean drinking water, in what was the one-time capital of the prosperous Maratha kingdom of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s descendents.

Although blessed with an average of around 140 cms of annual rainfall, Satara falls in a ‘rain shadow’ region, as it is situated to the east of the Western Ghats, where rainfall is abundant during monsoon.

Thus, while the hilly regions to the west of the district notch as high as 600 cms of annual rainfall, the ‘rain-shadow’ Maan sub-district gets barely 60 cms rains per annum, resulting in acute water shortage in the district watered by two major rivers, Koyna and Krishna.

Rahul arrived on a two-day visit to Maharashtra Friday morning and spent the whole day meeting party activists to assess the Congress’ strengths and weaknesses in the key state ruled by the party in coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

IANS