Agri Business

Marathwada: Nothing escapes tentacles of drought

Radheshyam Jadhav | | Updated on: Apr 08, 2019
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Drought not just about deficient rainfall, it’s tough choice between life and death

Marathwada is facing one of the severe droughts, with just 5.68 per cent live storage left in 964 dams and groundwater levels already depleting to the extent that borewells dug up to even 300-500 ft are not getting a drop of water.

But drought is not just about deficient rainfall, dry dams, tankers and crop failure. Thirteen-year-old Sarika and her friends walked miles in the scorching heat in Nanded to fetch drinking water for their families. As they spotted some grimy water at the bottom of a wellthey rushed. Sarika lost her balance and fell to death while fetching water. In Paithan, a young farmer Nanasaheb Nemane has cut down mosambi (sweet lemon) orchard as lush green trees turned into dry wood for lack of water . But he is not alone. Many farmers have set their orchards on fire in frustration and the shadow of death looms large here. Already, 4,700 farmers have committed suicide in the last five years in Marathwada, including 947 last year. In Beed district, hundreds of villages stand deserted as people have migrated to western Maharashtra in search of a livelihood, while elderly like Baliram Baglane are left back in fodder camps with inadequate livestock. “I don’t know what Iam waiting for..” says a wrinkle-faced Baliram with tears in eyes.

Drought means ruined childhood for thousands of girls like Sarika who spend their summer vacation in search of water. It means backbreaking strife for women who wander in search of water. Drought means a tough choice between life and death for Nanasaheb and other farmers.

Frequent droughts and crop failure have not only disrupted the economy of one of the backward regions in the State, but also inflicted many a human tragedy on local inhanbitants.

Water Crisis

The majority of Marathwada districts, with a population of 1.87 crore, fall in the Godavari basin, but barring Godavari no other major river flows through the region. Small rivers such as Purna, Sindhphana, Bindusara and Shivna turn dry as summer approaches.

“Look at this. You think it is a desert, it is not. It is Sindphana, our river,” says Amol Ugale, a youth from Hajipur taluka of Beed district, pointing towards a barren landscape. Drought is frequent in Marathwada, but this year the crisis has deepened. Against a normal rainfall of 682.9mm, Marathwada received 534.6mm rainfall between June and September, recording a rainfall departure of minus 22 per cent. Out of 76 taluks, 40 received 30-50 per cent deficient rainfall. Groundwater level in 1,200 villages in the region depleted by 2-3 metre in October itself, while 1,948 villages saw depletion by 1-2 metre . But this has not stopped people from digging borewells in search of water. Almost all borewells in the region have gone dry and people are looking for new ones. In Latur city itself, it is estimated that 45,000 borewells have been dug in the past few years. People are digging deep up to 300-500 ft down into the earth and still not getting water.

As of now, 2,092 villages and hamlets are completely dependent on 2,063 water tankers plying in the region. “ See the quality of tanker water,” says Rahul Pardhe, a youth from Sarangpur village in Aurangabad, as he opens the cover of one of the plastic cans kept in the village square. Government tanker comes once in a while and release water in plastic cans kept by the villagers. “The water is muddy and salty. Even the cattle is not drinking this water,” he laments. Other villagers rush with complaints. Those who can buy drinking water are buying it, others are drinking this one, Rahul adds.


Crop Failure

At the beginning of kharif season, there was just 25 per cent water stock in major dams in the region, which further got depleted 18 per cent in December, 2018. With dry dams and depleted water table, Marathwada will not have any source of drinking or non-drinking water.

The kharif crop was withered by the drought and hence many farmers did not sow winter crops. All major crops, including maize, soya, cotton, mosambi, pulses, groundnuts suffered, due to poor rainfall and not surprisingly the Latur Agriculture Produce Market Committee, the biggest centre of agri economy in the region, wears a deserted look. According officials, in 2017-18 the committee received 63,31,000 quintal agriculture produce which has been reduced to 49,95,000 quintal in 2018-19. Soybean is the dominant crop in the market here. Compared to 40 lakh quintal soybean that came to market last year and farmers got an average rate of ₹3,000 per quintal, this year about 26.41 lakh quintal soybean came to the market and at an average rate of ₹3,840. Latur is also famous for tur dal. This year 4,59,000 quintal dal was brought by farmers compared to 6,77,000 quintal last year.

“The region has kesar mango cultivation in over 20,000 hectare, but this time the fruit will not be of good quality and also harvest will be delayed till May-end. A delay in arrival of winter and scorching heat have disturbed lifecycle of mango plantation,” says Rajabhau Patil, a farmer. In Hingoli district, turmeric plantation in over 35,000 hectares has been affected by water scarcity. Farmers say that not a single drop of water was available for plantation at crucial times and hence the growth of turmeric was restricted. The production is certain to go down by 30-50 per cent and farmers will suffer heavily according to Bala Raut, a farmer.

“Our village had about 50 mosambi orchards and today 45 of them are dead. The government has not bothered to look at us. There is no water and fodder. There is no employment scheme. We are trying to fight our own battle,” says Ramesh Jadhav from Kachner in Aurangabad. Farmers are waiting for crop insurance money.

No Fodder

The government has opened fodder camps only in Beed and Osmanabad districts which have sheltered about 3 lakh livestock. “ We have repeatedly demanded for more fodder camps as we are finding it difficult to save our cattle. But nobody is here to listen to us. Leaders are busy in campaigns and elections and we are dying here with our cattle,” says a farmer in Naldurg town of Osmanabad district. There is chaos at the Naldurg bus stop as all of them try to get a bus to Tuljapur town in search of some work while some plan to go to Latur.

Marathwada has over 56 lakh livestock, which requires 26,000 tonne fodder everyday, as per the government figures. However, by the end of December, 2018, the available fodder from kharif was about 41 lakh tonnes. “We got fodder camp only after pleading for months. The quality of water and fodder we are getting is pathetic. But we have to bear with it. You cannot speak against big leaders here. One of us had raised his voice against a leader and then no trader came to purchase his cotton. He had to finally tender an apology to the leader and only then his cotton was purchased,” says a youth Beed who didn’t want to be named.

The demand for fodder camps is pouring in from other districts, but there is no response from the administration. Taluk-level officers have a standard answer-- “The process is on”.

Quest for Work

Every year an estimated 15 lakh small and marginal farmers leave Marathwada after sowing to work as cane cutters in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra. “This year, there is more migration. Many who had gone for cane-cutting have not come back as they are looking for some work. I returned as there was no work even in Satara, where we had gone for cane-cutting,” says Sharad Ugale from Hajipur village in Beed. He says more people this year have left their villages for cane-cutting and there are many more who have migrated in search of jobs. Migration has gone up by at least 40-50 per cent, according to government officials and cane cutter unions.

“There is nothing left in the village. Many of us settle in city slums and do whatever work we get. With no skill and education who will give us job in cities?” asks Anil Thakur, a youth who works as a security guard in an apartment in Pune. He came to the city in search of livelihood and is uncertain about his future.

As per the government data, Maharashtra has 2,15,65,810 MGNREGA workers, out of which only 26 per cent ( 55,88, 056) are active. Villagers allege that there is no work available. Out of 53,000 registered MGNREGA workers in Chakur taluka, only 497 have got work, according to reports, while not a single work is on in many villages. “People are wandering everywhere in search of work. Hardly there are any jobs and crop failure has brought agricultural activities to a standstill. Many youth mill around the industrial estate in Aurangabad, but hardly any unit is in position to provide any work,” says Shivram Shinde of Narsapur village in Aurangabad.

Drought has not affected much, says the government

State Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil recently told the media that though there is severe drought in Maharashtra it has not generated much impact, thanks to the State government’s early steps of drought mitigation. Patil said this was “unprecedented” that drought is not affecting many people. He added that the government took stock of the situation in October and started working towards fighting drought. Farmers have received drought relief funds, there is ample fodder which will cater to the need till June. Also, water availability is good as the government has started tankers in affected villages and new pipelines have been laid for water supply, said Patil.

After coming to power in 2014 Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced that he will make the State drought-free by 2019 with help of Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan. The scheme has being implemented since December, 2014 with a view to permanently overcomng the water scarcity . The main aim is to increase the ground water level by way of absorption of rain water in earth along with the creation of sustainable irrigation facilities. It targeted to make 5,000 villages every year and 25,000 villages in five years free of water scarcity. The Ministers and State officials say that the scheme is being implemented with full efforts, but the results could not be seen as there is deficient rainfall.

Published on April 15, 2019

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