In the last few months severe drought has deprived people of their livelihoods and pushed them into penury. Thousands migrated in search of work while hundreds ended their lives in drought hit region of Marathwada.

But for the tanker lobby money flowed in like water, sand mafia extracted tonnes of sand and gravel from dry rivers, contractors minted money in government’s water conservation works and fodder camp owners earned bumper cash.

“Drought brings death for the poor, but it is an opportunity to multiply money for politicos and rich people. It is high time that the government changes its policies and ways to tackle drought. All these years we have witnessed massive corruption in drought relief works, but no effort has been made to stop it” says activist Sampatrao Pawar who is working with farmers to create a fodder bank so that farmers don’t have to take cattle in camps.

After coming to power in 2014 Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had launched the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan (JSA) scheme in a bid to make Maharashtra drought-free by 2019.

The project involved deepening and widening of streams, construction of cement and earthen check dams, work on nullahs and digging of farm ponds.

Notwithstanding the government’s claim of completing JSA works, 26 out of 36 districts (72 per cent) in Maharashtra reeled under drought and crop failure. Now the State itself admits that there were “irregularities” in the works carried out under JSA.

Water Conservation Minister Tanaji Sawant told the State Legislative Council that the State is conducting a probe in 1,300 JSA works.

Corruption in fodder camps

The State government issued permissions to NGOs, activists and politicians to open fodder camps in the drought affected areas. Following this 1,638 fodder camps were opened to shelter 10,53,809 cattle. The State government reimburses the expenditure based on the number of cattle in the camp.

Officials in Marathwada, especially in Beed district found that those who were running cattle camps had inflated the number of cattle to extract money from the government. Farmers in Beed have been complaining that fodder camp owners, most of them affiliated with political parties are showing bogus cattle on paper and drawing money from the administration.

In a few cases the Beed administration has taken action against fraud fodder camp owners, but farmers say that many fodder camps have received money without having enough cattle.

Tanker lobby gains

As of now over 7,000 water tankers are plying in Maharashtra as per the government data. These are government-run tankers and it is estimated that almost same number of private tankers are playing in the State without any control. In drought affected Aurangabad city, a private water tanker of 2,000 litre costs between ₹500-700.

In rural areas a water tanker of 5,000 litre costs ₹2,000. “Almost all private tanker owners are connected with some or other political party and are minting money. Tanker is big business in the region” says Rishikesh Baglane a young farmer. Allegedly, the government has allocated work of free water supply to tanker owners who are affiliated with political parties.

Sand mafia robs rivers

With a population of 1.87 crore, most of Marathwada falls in the Godavari basin but except Godavari no major river flows in the region and small rivers such as Purna, Sindhphana, Bindusara and Shivna fall dry as summer approaches. All these rivers are being robbed of their cover as a massive network of sand mafia is working in the region, according to villagers. Even as the district administrations in the region are taking actions intermittently, villagers allege nexus between government officials and sand mafia. The dry Godavari is rapidly losing its sand cover while there is no check on sand mining in rivers in remote rural areas, they say.