In Marathwada the queues are for collecting water during this election season

When the tanker comes – filling water in Chorala village of Jalna district. Photo by Meena Menon.

  • As the election tempo heats up, the Marathwada districts of Maharashtra are suffering severe drought.
  • The situation is made worse with the employment guarantee not working and fodder not available for the farm livestock.
  • Piped water facilities supplied by the government in some villages are not in use because of no water.

The irony is unmistakable. In the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, which is in the grip of arguably the worst drought since 1972, what stands out is hectic road construction. En route Jalna to Ambad, a massive machine lays out a spanking new concrete road. Meanwhile across the road, people fill pots of water from leaks in a pipeline that runs from the Jayakwadi dam to Jalna, in defiance.

Water sources are running dry for the most part and tankers crisscross the region, queueing to fill water from the few remaining dams which have storage. The browning of Marathwada has been underway since many years and the situation can only get worse this summer. The situation is compounded by the proliferation of sugarcane cultivation in the region which has also suffered due to poor rains in 2018.

Over the years the tanker lobby, the borewell industry and now the many small reverse osmosis (RO) filter plants which supply drinking water in towns, continue to make a killing.

For the people, however, there is no sign of “achche din” (“good days”, part of the slogan of the BJP party’s 2014 election campaign). In Jalna district, for example, there were no cattle camps or employment guarantee scheme (EGS) work in progress.

Tankers fill water at Bendsura dam in Beed district. Photo by Meena Menon

At Chorala village (Bokardan taluka, Jalna district), preparations begin in the morning, hours before the tanker is scheduled to arrive. Steel and plastic pots and drums of varying sizes and colours are stacked in rows around a small cement tank. This village of over a 1000 people, is divided into four wards and each day two wards have a go at collecting water.

There is a buzz of anticipation and decibel levels rise as the tanker arrives at 10.30 am near the temple to discharge its precious load. Soon women from rival wards stake a claim for water and there is an argument. In the next 20 minutes, as soon as the tank is full, the women arch backwards and throw their buckets with ropes attached into the tank and bend almost in unison to frantically draw water.

Some men help too, but most of them stand and watch or quell arguments. As the water level goes down, you can hear the sound of steel buckets scraping the bottom for those last few drops. While many villages in Bokardan taluka have piped water facility under the government Jal Swarajya and other schemes, they are out of use due to lack of water.

Different from 1972 – no water

Those who have lived through the severe drought in 1972 which gave birth to Maharashtra’s landmark employment guarantee scheme (EGS), remember there was a shortfall of foodgrains, not water. This time it is water that is absent in most places in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra and very little provision for fodder and no work under the EGS either. With poor monsoons in 2018, the kharif crop yielded little and there was no sowing during the rabi season when most of the millets are grown for fodder.

The major cities and towns in the region like Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed and Osmanabad get water once in a week or a fortnight. There, plastic cans for sale with filtered water and water ATMs in some places ease the water scarcity. But it is in the villages that the impact of the drought is stark. Though the state government declared the list of drought-affected villages in October 2018, there is a clear and present absence of any vision or planning to handle this crisis. Six of the eight Lok Sabha seats in the region are held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena alliance.

Raosaheb Danve Patil, the state BJP President and four-time Member of Parliament (MP) from Bokardan, presides over a seat that is virtually bereft of water and has no cattle camps worth the name or any EGS. Beed is the stronghold of the late Gopinath Munde, which is now held by his daughter Pritam.

Madhav Bhandari, BJP spokesperson for Maharashtra, told Mongabay-India that the situation has been very grim and will worsen in the coming days. There have been a lot of problems in Marathwada, especially as groundwater levels are diminishing and water is getting contaminated. Water conservation works which have been carried out did not have an impact as there were no rains for the last two years, he added. As for cattle, this time there is a twin strategy of setting up fodder depots along with cattle camps in some places.

The dry Purna riverbed in Jalna district. Photo by Meena Menon.

Kamala Lokhande, sarpanch of Chorala said tankers were supplying water to the village from February 2018. Even in earlier years since 1992, the village has often been serviced by tankers. There is no water for irrigation here and in the kharif season, the people got barely 10 to 15 percent of the usual harvest. From ten quintals of cotton an acre, now farmers manage only two quintals. Ganesh Shinde, a cotton farmer in the region, said he used to get 40 quintals of cotton from three acres but now it has dropped to 11 quintals since the past few years. Fodder is in short supply and he is spending Rs. 7,000 to bring it in from Vidarbha, only to keep his cattle alive.

Vishnu Lokhande, a local farmer and contractor, said people were migrating every day for work, though there was no permanent migration as yet. The village has to wait for the tankers, which arrive at midnight sometimes due to load shedding, which extends over 14 hours. There are many borewells here too which are dry. This area was famous for its chillies but now there is nothing, he added.

Mathura Shinde said till a few years they did get piped water but now taps were out of use. “If nature is against us, what can you do,” asked Ashok Dhabade.

Not all villages get tanker water. In Babhulgaon, a nearby village, water is piped from the Danapur dam 12 km away for its 2,300 population, and they get it once in ten days for less than ten minutes. The 200 wells and borewells in the village are dry. There was no rabi sowing on 600 acres of the land in the village.

Kaveri Jamdar said water has been scarce since many years and now it comes from the tap once a week for a few minutes.”My family cannot survive on this little bit and we have to buy water. Now it is eight days since water has come and we are waiting.” Women pay Rs. 100 for a barrel of 200 litres and store water. “Why can’t the government send us tanker water?” asks Sheela Jamdar. The self-help group she is part of has demanded work under EGS on December 12, 2018 and despite 50 to 100 women demanding work in writing, there is none so far. “If they cannot give work, they should give an allowance. We have nothing to do and we go here and there looking for water,” she added.

Sweet lime trees being cut in Radhakrishna Balap’s field in Kajala village near Jalna. Photo by Meena Menon.

No EGS and a failing PDS

Yet despite the dire situation, there is no work under the employment guarantee scheme (EGS) here. Mangesh Shinde complained that the farmers were not given the benefits of loan waiver or the Kisan Samman scheme.

At such a critical time, the public distribution system (PDS) has also brought upon complaints. Uttam Matkar said that he and others had submitted a complaint to the tehsildar in February 2018 demanding an inquiry into the ration shop owner who is breaking rules by overcharging people, not giving proper rations, or displaying the cost of the foodgrains, giving less than what is entitled to people and even selling some of the ration in the open market. Issues related to linking ration cards and Aadhar numbers (unique identification number for Indian citizens) are depriving people of rations in Nagzarwadi in Kalamb taluka of Osmanabad district as well and some have not been given rations for six months.

“We have no fodder, water and soon there will be nothing to eat as well,” said Ushinder Bhanudas Salunke. “I am entitled to 35 kg of rice a month but some online thing is not working and so I haven’t got the rice since six months,” he said. Others like Anusuya Labad, Prashant Salunkhe too said there were problems of linking the card with Aadhar and so people were not getting rations for some time.

While people complained there was no work, official figures for Jalna district state that there were 292 works with about 9193 people employed on March 28. However, on March 31 there were 100 works employing 3995 people.

The government has requisitioned 503 wells, which have water for supplying to villages and 357 tankers are in operation as of April 1 in Jalna district. Official sources confirmed there are no cattle camps yet in Jalna district but there was a relief camp for cattle in an old pinjrapole or cattle camp in Jalna town which the government has now approved.

Agrarian distress

Crop losses over the years and poor rains and rising debt have led to a number of farmers’ suicides in the region. Official figures state that over 6800 farmers have committed suicide in eight districts of Marathwada region from 2001 to 2018 and the numbers are increasing since 2015. Balasaheb Dake’s father committed suicide in Kajala village near Jalna, in 2015 after his sweet lime crop failed. Now a law student, Dake cannot get over the death of his father. His old home is shut but the 100-foot well next to it has a little water, enough to feed cattle. “Five years ago this was a lively place, we had water, my father was alive and our trees were fruiting, but now all that has changed,” said 23-year-old Dake.

Large landowners are also affected. On the side of the road at Kajala, a stoic Radhakrishna Balap watches as his sweet lime trees are cut down with an electric saw. “I had planted 12 acres (of the 45 he owns) with 1000 trees which are about ten years old. I can’t sustain them anymore as there is no water,” he said. It will take four days to chop down all the trees and he pays Rs. 100 to cut a tree. In a desperate move, he tried to dig a borewell nearby but even at 300 feet, there was no water. Rains have been poor since 2012 and already Balap is in debt to the tune of Rs. 1.2 million.

Kajala village is full of farmers who are in distress like anywhere else, grappling with crop losses, debt, and now a looming water and fodder shortage. As a result, people are selling their land to survive and over the years, Bhanudas Jadhav said 30 percent people have sold their land to people from Jalna town, which is 12 km away, for Rs. 3 to 5 lakh per acre.

Balasaheb Dake whose father committed suicide in 2015, at his barren filed in Kajala village near Jalna. Photo by Meena Menon.

In addition to fetching water from sources about three to four km away, there is no power supply in the village as people have not paid bills. People like Raghunath Bhorde have been digging borewells, six in all, in the hope of some water. Water levels are below 300 feet and many meet with little success after spending Rs. 30,000 for each well. There has been no income from crops after the abysmal rain in 2018 and people are borrowing to survive.

At Zhirpi, an entire field of sweet lime trees has been cut and only the stumps remain. Here, a farmer, Madhukar Shingare, has dug 18 borewells, four are below 500 foot deep to water his sweet lime and pomegranate trees which are young. He also supplements this with tanker water since two months spending Rs. 150,000 (Rs. 1.5 lakhs). “The trees are in a situation where they cannot die but they are barely alive,” remarked his brother Deepak.

The multitudes of borewells are dry or have water that is not potable. On the way to Chorala village, the wide dry bed of the Purna river is being excavated for its sand in various places. Farmers lament the loss of their crops and many have invested in horticulture. In Karjat village in Jalna taluka, farmers have felt the brunt of the drought with shrivelled sweet lime trees, dried grapes and pomegranates.

Vijay Dongre’s field is full of dehydrated sweet limes which have turned burnt orange. He has 400 trees over 3 acres and used to earn around Rs 500,000 annually. “Now I have to cut them down as there is no point in keeping them- they won’t survive,” he said. He spent Rs 250,000 on tankers for two months trying to revive the trees but he has run out of money and the trees didn’t survive.

Ankush Bansode’s eyes fill with tears as he gazes on his land with dead grape and pomegranate trees. He used to earn around Rs. 350,000 a year from the fruits but now he is faced with the prospect of uprooting them. Bansode has a family of six people including two children. He wonders how he will survive in the next few months.

Raju Dongre said the village with 1700 people gets a per head allocation of 20 litres a day. “Can you survive on that in Mumbai?” he asked.

Ankush Bansode lost his grape and pomegranate crop spread over 3.5 acres in Karjat village, Jalna district. Photo by Meena Menon.

No cattle camps

Shaukat Pathan of Babhulgaon village said that people have no fodder and cattle are roaming around looking for food or being sold at cheap rates. Though proposals have been given to the government to set up cattle camps, nothing has yet happened, according to Vishal Gade, a local BJP worker.

Much like the droughts in the past, some villages get tanker water occasionally but the crisis is over the supply of fodder. There was no cattle camp or chavni in evidence in Jalna district and those who have applied to the administration to set up camps like the Ankushrao Tope Sugar Factory have yet to get permission. The state government does not organise cattle camps and leaves it to private parties and later reimburses them. Cattle camps were up and running in Beed district and a few in Osmanabad offering some solace.

Overall the situation reflected poor management and a lack of planning and disgruntled people were viewing the forthcoming elections with mixed views: some willing to give the BJP another chance but others wanting a change from the situation of all rhetoric and no action on the ground.

Water for cattle is becoming a grave issue in the region. Photo by Meena Menon.


Banner image: When the tanker comes – filling water in Chorala village of Jalna district. Photo by Meena Menon.

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