How water is shaping the hustings in Maharashtra

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on March 26, 2019

Twenty-six of Maharashtra’s 36 districts (72 per cent) are reeling under water scarcity   -  Vivek Bendre;Vivek Bendre -

With people too busy collecting it, attendance at poll meetings is thin

It’s the schedule of water tankers, and not the time and availability of political bigwigs and national leaders, that is determining the timing of election meetings and rallies in Maharashtra’s drought-affected regions.

With the drought intensifying and paucity of water rising, over 3,117 water tankers, as against just 391 in March 2018, are plying in 8,000 villages and hamlets.

With people, especially rural women, running after water, politicians have been finding it hard to build attendance at election rallies. Local leaders are now busy planning election campaigns based on the water tanker time table. Indeed, many are using their political influence to persuade district administrations to increase the number of tankers in their localities.

Twenty-six of Maharashtra’s 36 districts (72 per cent) are reeling from water scarcity and crop failures over 85.76 lakh hectares. The drought has directly impacted over 82 lakh farmers in the State. The situation is worsening in the Marathwada region, where over 30 lakh people are completely dependent on tanker water with just 4 per cent capacity available available in dams in the region.

Per government data, 1,796 tankers are currently plying in the Marathwada region. In Khamaswadi village in the drought-hit Osmanabad taluka, women have insisted that local politicians must first make arrangements for water and only then talk about politics. “Women have to walk 2-3 km to get a pot of water. As elections and drought have come together, politicians are facing the heat. Some of them are arranging tankers on their own, so that villagers listen to them” says Sunanda Kharate from Osmanabad.

Water is priority

She added that getting a pot of water is the first priority and election meetings come last for people in Osmanabad.

The administration is acquiring borewells and wells in Latur district. Politicians here are keen that water scarcity does not hit their election campaign and electoral prospects. “More and more borewells are being acquired. Making arrangements for water is the top priority for people and attending election meetings is not even on the agenda,” says Vikas Kamble from Latur. In 2016, Latur witnessed one of the worst droughts and the State government had to run a “water train” from western Maharashtra to cater to the drinking water needs of the city.

A senior government official said that the State government has issued a resolution stating that elected representatives must be kept out of drought management as the election code of conduct is is in place. “But politicians are using their power to force the administration to increase the number of water tankers in their respective localities to mitigate the wrath of the people,” he said.

NCP spokesperson Ankush Kakade conceded that political parties have to plan their campaign keeping the water scarcity in mind. “It is a daunting task for parties and candidates to convince people” he said.

Women are water providers in India and on an average, a rural woman walks more than 14,000 km a year just to fetch water, according to a report on women and water by the National Commission for Women.

City women, according to the report are only slightly better off as they do not walk such distances, but stand in the long queues for hours on end to collect water.

Published on March 26, 2019

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