As many as 50 farmers from Maharashtra’s drought-hit Marathwada region have committed suicide in the first three weeks of this month, official figures from the state government have revealed. This comes at a time when the Bombay High Court, following a report in The Indian Express, has sought details from the state government regarding 89 farmer suicides in January over crop failure.
With 50 farmers ending their lives in February so far, this year’s toll has climbed to 139. Officials have said farmers are taking the extreme step after failing to pay off debts due to recurrent crop failures. Last year, over 1,100 farmers from Marathwada region had committed suicide over crop failures.
Beed, Osmanabad and Nanded districts, which accounted for most farmer suicides last year, have seen 65 farmer suicides so far in 2016 — almost half the total deaths. Officials, however, claimed that all efforts were being made to arrest the suicides.
Osmanabad, where the state government has launched its zero-suicide mission, has seen 20 farmer suicides in the last three weeks.
District Collector Prashant Narnaware conceded that their efforts were not yielding desired results. “I am sad that despite all our efforts the suicides continue. We believe this is a fallout of four years of drought,” Narnaware told The Indian Express.
District officials said they were struggling to provide drinking water to the district’s 16 lakh population. “Of the 636 villages, wells (nearly 3,500) in 125 villages have gone dry,” said Narnaware.
The officials said only 10 per cent of the over 20,000 wells in the district had “some” water, which was being sent through tankers to other parts of the district.
“This water will last for some more days. Therefore, so far we have not faced the need to borrow water from outside the district,” he said. The government has taken over 996 wells in the district. As many as 224 water tankers are making over 600 daily trips throughout the district. Osmanabad, which falls in a rain shadow region, has no major river flowing through it and no big dam.
The Terna dam, which was constructed 10 years ago, has never been filled to its capacity due to lack of rains in the region — last four years being the worst. “Osmanabad only has smaller water projects like the ponds, which hold only 0.8 per cent water,” said an official.
With the district struggling to provide people with drinking water, agriculture has come to a complete standstill.
“Drinking water is our priority. When we are struggling to ensure daily stock of water for the 16 lakh population, where will we find water for agriculture purpose,” asked a senior district official.
In Osmanabad city, the situation is no different. The city with a population of 1.5 lakh has been getting drinking water after every eight days for the last four years. “And that too only once a day. We are able to get it from Ujani dam in Solapur district,” said Narnaware.
Osmanabad’s hopes, officials said, were resting on good rains this season. Most of the works under the state government’s ambitious Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan have been completed in the district.
Unfortunately, there was less than 49 per cent average rainfall last year, said the said. “We hope we will have good rain this time so that we will be able to save water in the structures that we have set up,” said Narnaware. The government has pumped in Rs 125 crore towards the water conservation projects.