Drought - The distress in rural Karnataka

Vishwanath Kulkarni Recently in Raichur | Updated on January 27, 2018

A farmer negotiates the bleak landscape of a dried-up tank in Raichur in Gulbarga district. PHOTOGRAPHS: GRN SOMASHEKHAR


With government’s relief measures seen as inadequate, villagers are opting to migrate

For Seethamma, a septuagenarian in Hirolli, the last village in Karnataka’s drought-stricken Gulbarga district bordering Maharashtra, the nightmare of water scarcity has been compounded by another equally compelling need.

“We need employment to survive. Please tell the government to give us some jobs here,” she tells this reporter.

As drought tightens its grip on the northern and north-eastern districts of Karnataka, the rural distress is getting aggravated, prompting villagers to migrate in search of water and employment. The severe drought in Latur, Beed and Solapur districts in neighbouring Maharashtra has spilled over into Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur and Bijapur districts in Karnataka

The Hirolli Gram Panchayat has been supplying a limited quantity (10-15 pots or about 150 litres for a family of three) of water through tankers once every three days, but is yet to provide other relief measures. The acute water stress in the region is triggered by declining rainfall over the past few years and the rapidly depleting groundwater levels, impacting livelihoods.

“I have to make do with four pots of water (about 40 litres) for the next three days,” says Seethamma, whose main source of income is the widow pension of 500 a month. Her two sons have migrated to Maharashtra in search of jobs.

‘There are no jobs’

“I am willing to work as long as I am fit, but there are no jobs. Earlier, I used to do odd jobs in the farms, but that work has not been there for many months now as there is hardly any crop on the fields,” she adds.

Her plight is shared by Puthalamma and Gangabai and many more women in Hirolli, who recall desilting a local tank under the MNREGA rural employment guarantee programme in 2006-07.

“It has been months since I had a cup of tea or coffee,” says Puthalamma, who largely depends on farm jobs for survival. She has heard that the government has started giving jobs under MNREGA in neighbouring Kamanhalli, but is not sure she will get one. “We want the government to start work in our village,” she adds.

Some 300 km away from Hirolli, at Gonala, near Raichur in the eastern part of the State, Hulegappa, a small farmer, is similarly clueless. Eking out a living has become tough ever since the pink bollworm ravaged his cotton crop over two acres. “We want the government to start giving us jobs under MNREGA,” he says. Many people in Gonala have migrated to Bengaluru and Pune in search of work, and several more are looking to do the same.

An unusual heat wave

It has been a double whammy for the people in the State. While a water stress has triggered hardships for the masses and is affecting their daily lives, the heat wave, with the mercury hovering above 40 degrees across many parts of the State, has compounded their misery.

In Bidar district, which is at a relatively higher elevation, the temperatures during summer had never crossed 40 degrees all these years. This year, it is hovering above 42 degrees, broadly in line with the unusual hot weather conditions prevailing across the region.

Popularly known as Hyderabad-Karnataka, the six districts in the arid north-eastern parts of the State have traditionally lagged other regions in terms of social and economic development and have been tagged as backward in terms of overall development.

A majority of the rivers flowing through the region –– the Krishna, Bheema, Manjara and Amaraja, among others –– have their origins in Maharashtra, which too is reeling under drought.

Karnataka is witnessing its third successive drought; rainfall has been deficient since 2012-13.

Drought has gripped the contiguous stretches right from Bidar till Raichur and Bellary, and further down to Kolar in the eastern parts of Karnataka, and has precipitated water scarcity in the central districts of Dharwar, Gadag, Haveri and even Vijaypura, Belgaum and Bagalkot. About 24 of the 30 districts, except for the ones in the coastal belt and some areas of Malnad, are facing adrought.

“This year, the cumulative impact of deficient rainfall in the past three years has aggravated the distress,,” said VS Prakash, former director of the Drought Monitoring Cell, an autonomous body that tracks the weather pattern and provides advisory services. “There is a need for co-ordination among various agencies; the strategies for water usage should be evolved at the gram panchayat level,” he adds.

State’s role inadequate

Many affected people in the region feel that the State government needs to do more and step up its relief efforts.

“Relief measures should be taken up on a war footing,” says Maruti Manpade of Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha. Adequate supplies of water, foodgrains and fodder for cattle should be ensured, as was done in 1972, when the region witnessed a severe famine, he adds.

Comparing the current drought to the 1972 famine, Basavaraj Ingin, President of the Karnataka Tur Growers Association, said the impact is more severe now as natural resources –– primarily the groundwater table –– are dwindling. Blaming the sand extraction mafia for the water shortages, Ingin suggested that the Centre revive the Inter-State River Linking Project and expedite its implementation.

“Indiscriminate extraction of sand from the river beds and rivulets has reduced the water holding capacity. Also, the excessive use of agro chemicals and fertilisers is seen affecting the water retention capacity of the soil,” he adds.

At Padasavli, another village in Aland taluk of Bidar, farmers are not happy with the drought relief measures. There is a tremendous amount of angst directed at the State government for its failure to distribute the compensation granted by the Centre for crop losses. Sugarcane used to be one of the major crops here, but farmers are no longer planting it due to water scarcity. Other key crops in the region are jowar and tur (red gram).

“Poor rainfall has resulted in substantial losses for the farmers, some of whom have received very paltry compensation. The State government should immediately pass on the relief granted by the Centre,” says SSPatil, former gram panchayat chairman, Padsavli.

The government has granted drought compensation of 2,800 for farmers owing up to five acres of land; those with higher landholding have received ₹4,002. “We cannot even buy two bags of fertilisers with that money,” Sharanappa, a farmer, said.

Padsavli has a relatively better water table, and has been a source of drinking water for many Sursamba, Savleshwar and Nirgund villages. “But considering our own requirement, which will increase ahead of the village deity fair later this month, we have stopped supplies to these villages,” Patil adds.

Not just small farmers

The drought has affected not only the small farmers and the landless labourers, but also large land owners. Basavaraj Thatti, whose family owns about 20 acres, irrigated partially through groundwater, is in search of a lessee cultivator for the coming season. “We couldn't take up the summer planting as we were unsure of water availability. At present, our borewell is yielding water, but what if it stops,” Thatti asks.

Hirolli and Sursamba are among the hundreds of villages in the State, where the government has started supplying drinking water, supported by Infosys Foundation, among others. The Foundation has begun supplying drinking water in Gadag and Dharwad district in central Karnataka, and is looking to open fodder banks in the region.

Social scientist RS Deshpande, former Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC), says that droughts recur every few years in Karnataka, and considering this, the government should set up a dedicated fund and formulate on-shelf strategies for job creation in the 88 identified taluks of northern Karnataka.

More pronounced migration

The annual migration of labour from the Hyderabad-Karnataka region during the summer months has become more pronounced in recent years . There are no official figures, but almost every family has one member who has moved in search of jobs.

Migration from the drought-affected regions started as far back as November. While migration continues from parts of Raichur, Yadgir and Gulbarga districts, it has slowed down in Vijayapura..

“About 5 to 10 per cent of the population migrates every year from Vijayapura. This year, the migration is higher by 2-3 per cent,” says D Ranadeep, Deputy Commissioner, Vijayapura. .

Manpade says that though the forecast of an above-normal monsoon has raised some hopes, it could take a few years for the region to return to normal.

Published on April 27, 2016

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