Money flows freely in western Maharashtra; penury in Vidarbha. Leaders of former region dominate the politics and policies of the state, which protect their interests at the cost of interests of other regions. Economic disparities are by design and not just a coincidence. The Vidarbha crisis has crucial linkages with all those disparities.

Politically, Vidarbha was part of the erstwhile Central Provinces and Berar. It was ceded to Maharashtra in 1953, though the States Reorganisation Commission had strongly recommended the formation of a separate Vidarbha state. The erstwhile leadership of the Congress opposed it, because it would have been a terrible loss to the entire state. Western Maharashtra could not have afforded to lose this resource and mineral-rich region, which would breed their interests for years.

The regional economic disparities are glaring in all the sectors – roads, allied agriculture activities, education, marketing of produce, banking network, credit availability and anything you name. It was by political design, not decay.


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Economic disparities showed up in first few years, but they took alarming proportions in late seventies. After public and political protests, The Government of Maharashtra first appointed a fact-finding committee of experts under the chairmanship of Dr V M Dandekar on 3 August 1983, to decide on the indicators for assessing and quantifying regional imbalance in development of the state.

The committee did a study of backlog in nine developmental sectors, which were: roads; irrigation; village electrification; general education; technical education; health services; water supply; land development, soil and water conservation; and veterinary services. In its report submitted to the government in 1984, the committee said the total sectoral backlog of the state, as on 30 June 1982, was Rs.3186.77 crore. Vidarbha was the worst affected. Its share in that stood at Rs 1246.54 crore. The statewide irrigation backlog was Rs.1385.93 crore, and Vidarbha's share in the backlog of that sector was Rs 527.31 crore, or 38.05%.

The then government did not accept the Dandekar committee report, but made some small allocations ranging from Rs.200 crore in 1985 to Rs.500 crore in 1993-94 for the removal of backlog to silence the protests. The committee had said that 85% of annual budgetary allocations be earmarked for backlog removal.

On 9 March 1994, the President of India passed an order bestowing on the Governor of Maharashtra a special responsibility "for the establishment of separate development boards for Vidarbha, Marathwada and the Rest of Maharashtra" to ensure equitable allocation of funds for development of regions. The statutory order provides for the allocation of funds made by the Governor or recommended by him to be reflected in the state annual financial statements.

Consequent upon the fresh protests for the removal of the backlog, the Governor appointed another committee in 1995, the Indicators and Backlog Committee. This committee submitted its report to the Governor on 11 July 1997. The state government accepted its report "in principle," but it said the views of respective departments should be referred to the Backlog committee for consideration and calculation of physical and financial backlog with regard to irrigation, higher and technical education, energisation of pumps, and land, soil and water conservation sectors. The Governor then asked the committee to consider the views of each and every department in respect of the relevant sectors to assess the final backlog. The reconstituted Committee submitted its fresh report to the Governor on 27 September 2000, which was accepted by the Maharashtra Government.

The reconstituted committee arrived at a total sectoral backlog of Rs.14,006.77 crore, of which Rs.6624.02 crore (47.6%) was of Vidarbha's share alone, Rs.4004.55 crore (28.77%) of Marathwada and Rs 3378.2 crore (23.63%) of rest of Maharashtra. In irrigation, the backlog of the state was pegged at Rs.7418 crore, which came to about 52.96 per cent of the total developmental backlog. And the backlog in this sector for Vidarbha was calculated at Rs.4083 crore, or 55.04% of the total irrigation backlog of the state. Marathwada's irrigation backlog was Rs 2401 crore (32.37%) and that of the rest of Maharashtra Rs.934 crore, or 12.59%. In other words, the irrigation backlog of rest of Maharashtra drastically dropped from 39.1% as on March 31, 1984 to 12.59% in 1994. This has since declined dramatically to a mere 4.7% by 2002, as per the updated figures.

Significantly, in the same period, Vidarbha's irrigation backlog rose exponentially from 38.02% in 1982 to 55.04% in 1994 to 62.2% of the total state's backlog in that sector in 2002. In rupee-terms, it means an exponential rise from Rs.537.31 crore to some Rs.8000 crore by 2002 at 1993-94 prices. This would come to around Rs 14,434.64 crore as per 2003-04 prices, and more by the current.

Backlog in Irrigation

The total irrigation potential created by June 2004 in the state was 51.5 lakh hectare, which is about 22.85% of culturable area and 48% of the ultimate irrigation potential of the state, according to a planning commission report.

Compared to this, the irrigation potential developed in Vidarbha by July 2004 is 11.67 lakh hectares, which is about 20.46% of the culturable area and 31.6% of its ultimate irrigation potential. About 1.8 lakh hectare of land is under irrigation in Vidarbha due to ex-malguzari tanks constructed way back in the 16th and 17th century. Many tanks built in the pre-independence era have created an irrigation potential of 0.48 lakh ha. This implies that only 9.43 lakh ha land has been brought under irrigation since independence by the government. Which is only about 0.16 lakh ha per year.

Other regions of the state, which were way behind Vidarbha in irrigation development before independence, have now marched way ahead of it in the post independence period. The Pune region for instance has a share of 37.23% of the state's irrigation development, followed by Marathwada at 22.24% and Nashik at 17%. The two regions of Vidarbha are way behind these figures – 12.25% for Nagpur and 9.34% for Amravati. The created irrigation potential is in contrast with the water availability in the region. Since Marathwada region has only 8.5% of the available water compared to the state; Pune and Nashik region put together may hardly equal the Vidarbha's share if the west flowing rivers in Konkan are excluded. Considering this aspect, the backwardness of Vidarbha in irrigation sector gets highlighted starkly.

The total culturable area, gross sown area and net sown area in the 11 districts of Vidarbha are 6.0627 million ha, 6.3151 million ha and 5.1752 million ha respectively. The region falls in Godavari and Tapi basins. The irrigation potential developed so far till June 2005 is 0.874 m ha from state sector schemes and 0.304 m ha from local sector schemes (total 1.178 m ha). Potential created as a percent of gross sown area is only 19% for the region as a whole.

So far 10 major, 49 medium and 650 minor schemes have been completed creating a potential of 0.6487 m ha. The 15 major, 30 medium and 164 minor schemes are ongoing with an ultimate potential of 1.259 m ha, which will need a massive funding of Rs 10,600 crore by the current prices.

Agriculture pumps

A member of Statutory Development Board for Vidarbha, Advocate Madhukar Kimmatkar, says out of total energy consumed in the state for agriculture pumps during 2003-04 (which is 10,155.2 million units), Vidarbha consumed only 1166.3 million units, amounting to 11.49%. In Western Maharashtra, consumption was 6659.64 million units, about 65.58% of the total consumption, while in Marathwada, it was 2258.91 MU, or 22.24%. The physical backlog of energisation of agricultural pumps in Vidarbha stands at 215,000, in Marathwada at 1,09,073, where as western Maharashtra has an excess of 3,57,320 pumps that has been energized. As on March 3001, Amravati revenue division with five districts had 2,85,160 agricultural pumps, and Nagpur division with six districts had 1,78,187 pumps. Compare it with just two districts – Nashik and Ahmednagar – of the western Maharashtra. Former has 2,00,270 pumps energized, while Ahmednagar has 2,33,068 such pumps.

The reason for this enormous difference is not the water table level but huge pendency in clearing applications by farmers for electricity connective for their agricultural activities. This issue becomes even more significant in the view of the fact that the state government gives an annual subsidy of Rs 9,250 per pump. The subsidy is useless here because the farmers haven't got electricity connections in the first place, and is therefore a loss of irrigation potential.

Imbalance by design

The regional economic disparities are glaring in all the sectors – roads, allied agriculture activities, education, marketing of produce, banking network, credit availability and anything you name. It was by a political design, not decay. The political heavyweights dangled carrots to Vidarbha and successfully hijacked its funds to western Maharashtra almost every time for the last five decades now.

Why did the regional imbalance rise? Because, the state's leadership harnessed a constituency in western Maharashtra, and dominated the politics and policies of the state, which continued to fuel their interests. Successive governments harped on the backwardness of the regions like Vidarbha, even as they spent more and more money on western Maharashtra. They pauperised the people here and pampered the constituencies there, through public finances and through private money.

An estimated Rs.200,000 crore worth of public and private money is due to be spent on the transformation of western Maharashtra's agriculture into horticulture and allied hi-tech activities, according to many independent sources. This money will be ploughed into from the banks, non-banking financial institutions and the private funding. This is now possible because that region first got its infrastructure built through the government money, even as other regions did not get their share.

More money in western Maharashtra now brings more capital. With the government budgets dwindling for all the activities, western Maharashtra is ready for embracing private money, though the small and marginal farmers even there would lose ground and perish slowly. The shift will be from production to value addition and marketing. This will give the corporate rich a cutting edge. They will eat only butter, while the growers -- who have no choice but to sell their produce since they cannot store it for very long without having means and capacities to do value addition and deferred marketing -- will grapple for two square meals.

Sugar monopolies control the entire state, but the much-trumpeted cooperative structure, on which they grew, has collapsed. Stiff competition in the markets from private competitors and rampant corruption has left the cooperative structure with cracks, and some sugar factories are closing down. It's no more alluring or paying. The game of controlling the constituencies, has shifted to the water sector from the sugar cooperatives, which once controlled the sugar-cane farmers of that region. That is why the czars of the western Maharashtra, who sit both in the state as well as the central governments, have deftly pushed in policies that are brazenly anti-farmer. Like the one that brings in back-door water privatisation – Pani Panchayats, run and controlled by the politically powerful, will eventually rule the constituencies.

While the creamy layer in western Maharashtra sets that region on the express highway of development, small and marginal farmers there and the entire agrarian peasantry in Vidarbha are set to hit the new troughs of despair. The lack of off and on-farm activities in this region was not due to the so-called laxity of the farmers. It was due to the stifling of the region of funds (i.e. investment) through a stark neglect.

And this happened even in the regime of Sharad Pawar when he was the chief minister of the state. Now, he is the agriculture minister of the country. Pawar, who has seen for years how funds got diverted from Vidarbha to his constituency, had ironically said some months ago while addressing a press conference in Nagpur that the country was passing through an agrarian crisis, which was a result of declining private and public sector investments. "What do you expect if the budget for agriculture is only 3% when over 60% of your population depend on it their livelihoods," Pawar had said then.

Planning Commission member, Dr Bhalchandra Mungekar, once aired his concern on the growing regional disparities in Maharashtra. He said unless the state government corrects its policies and make enough budgetary allocations it will always be riddled by regional conflicts. "There will be islands of prosperity and ocean of poverty and despair, and it can't be called as development," he said while suggesting the region-wise and district-wise allocation of funds in the annual financial statement itself. Maharashtra has a total debt burden of Rs.1.35 lakh crore, according to India's Planning Commission. Mungekar had noted a press conference last year that Maharashtra accounts for 50% of the total debt on all the states of India put together. "It's a big headache," he had said. He wondered how much of this money had the state government spent in Vidarbha and Marathwada. The government has no answers.

Meanwhile, governments changed, and every government assured the people that they would bring out a white paper on the backlog of the region and increase the spending on sectors. Yet the fact remains that the regional disparities over five decades have divided the state on regional lines, both politically and economically. It hardly matters whether Vidarbha gains the status of statehood. It's already a separate state of desolation.