Amid the ongoing monsoon in Maharashtra, a clutch of villages is still awaiting its first heavy spell of rainfall. Having recorded less than 150 mm of rain since June, the mood in these 50-70 villages scattered around Beed district’s Georai and Kaij talukas is dark, clouded by the fear that they may be moving from one drought to the next.
Their wells and borewells are offering only muddy water, they are still queueing up with plastic drums for the water tanker’s daily rounds, some of their animals are still at government-aided cattle camps, and the possibility of a severely stunted crop swells with every passing day.
“The water tankers never stopped coming, we’ve needed them since the winter months of January-February,” says Krishna Khedkar, a farmer and resident of Chaklamba. Located barely 40 km from Marathwada’s biggest dam, Jayakwadi, which is now overflowing, the Chaklamba circle comprising about 15 villages recorded 146.6 mm of rain until August 21, as per state government data. Meanwhile, the statewide average rainfall has already crossed 930 mm — 24 per cent higher than the norm for this time of the year.
Satish Patil, who owns 16 acres of land and did not sow in the 2018 rabi season owing to acute water scarcity, says this year’s rains arrived in Chaklamba “only to cruelly draw farmers to sow”.
“There was one small spell of rain and the saplings grew a bit, and after that, they’re only managing to remain green from the occasional drizzle,” he says.
Khedkar has invested Rs 60,000 in his 7-acre plot this season, and if there isn’t a heavy shower within the next week, he expects to incur deep losses on top of last year’s losses.
Hirabai Shitole, a woman in her sixties who lost her eldest son last year to a sudden heart attack, has spent Rs 2.5 lakh since the failed 2018 monsoon on tanker-supplied water to keep her 450 sweet lime trees alive. “Things were never so bad even in the 1972 drought. We have a well and four borewells dug to the depth of 200-300 feet. They’re all dry,” she says.
The Shitoles own 12 acres and their moong and urad crop are almost entirely lost, while the cotton crop is in danger of being severely stunted. “My dead son’s three children are in school and college and we have no income,” says Hirabai.
As per government data, Beed district has received an average of 212.5 mm rain since June, about 54.8 per cent of its average for this time of the year. Scores of villages have received less than 200 mm, with the talukas of Ashti, Georai, Kaij, Ambajogai and Wadavani all recording average rain of less than 200 mm. In Kaij, where the overall taluka average is currently 174.6 mm, the Kaij, Hanumant Pimpri, Hol and Bansarola circles of villages have recorded between 138 mm and 142 mm until August 22. In Georai, where the overall taluka average is 192.5 mm, the Chaklamba circle received 146.6 mm (35.4 pc of the average for this time of the year), Sirasdevi circle received 138.8 mm (33.5 pc of the average) and Talwada circle has 143.6 mm (34.6 pc of the average).
According to Talwada’s sarpanch Radhakrishna Shingane, the release of water from Jayakwadi through its right bank canal, which is barely a couple of kilometres outside the village, has led to some groundwater percolation and healthy crops across some stretches. “But that canal water is not meant for us, we’re not allowed to pump it to our fields,” he says.
The water is headed to Majalgaon dam in the district, which is still at dead storage. Shingane says some residents of nearby villages chose not to sow their fields at all, preferring to look for work as labourers.
In Chaklamba, villagers say the complete neglect of decentralised irrigation solutions is to blame. A 130-acre water tank, built by erecting an embankment wall to dam the water gushing down northward from the surrounding hill-slopes near the Sindphana river, is now derelict, its walls having collapsed a year after it was built in 2001. “I lost 1.5 acres that would be submerged due to the construction and I received just Rs 16,000,” says Shahdev Ashruba. “And now I have neither land nor irrigation.”
Chaklamba’s villagers have repeatedly undertaken relay hunger strikes to press for a sub-canal from Jayakwadi to their villages, where the average rainfall in the 2018 monsoon was just about 300 mm. With their largest local water structure collapsed for nearly two decades, and groundwater severely depleted, a few healthy showers will suffice for an average crop this season. But the area’s water crisis looks set to deepen in the long run. In the state Groundwater Survey and Development Agency’s summer survey, more than half the villages where it found depletion by over 3 metres from the five-year average are in Marathwada (1,467 villages).
At the cattle camp in Chaklamba, water is still purchased from 20 km away while fodder is imported from outside the region. The number of animals has reduced to 307 — villagers are depending on state aid for fodder and water are the worst off.
Kishanlal Lahoti, a senior citizen whose family lost land when the irrigation tank was built (in 2001), says a court order to authorities to consider the villagers’ grievance is being ignored. He says, “It’s a pattern now that until something terrible happens, the local government doesn’t act. How many more suicides must occur in our village for the state to reconstruct a simple structure?”