WHILE MAHARASHTRA is one of the states to have recorded rainfall in excess of average this monsoon, a clutch of villages is still longing for the season’s first heavy shower. Having recorded less than 150 mm of rain since June, the mood in these 50 to 70 villages scattered around Beed district’s Georai and Kaij talukas is dark, clouded by the fear that they are moving from one drought to the next.
There is only muddy water at the bottom of wells and borewells, water supply is still by tankers, some of their animals are still at government-aided cattle camps, and the possibility of a severely stunted crop swells with every day when it doesn’t rain.
“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 Jayakwadi — Marathwada’s biggest dam that is now over 90 per cent full and releasing water — the Chaklamba circle comprising about 15 villages recorded 146.6 mm of rain until August 22 as per state government data.
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 and did not sow in the 2018 rabi season owing to acute water scarcity, says an early spell led farmers to sow this Kharif season. “Then 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.”
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.
Others are bleeding to keep future prospects alive. Hirabai Shitole, a woman in her sixties who lost her eldest son last year to a heart attack, has spent Rs 2.5 lakh since the failed 2018 monsoon on tanker 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 a depth of 200 to 300 feet. They’re all dry,” she says.
The Shitoles own 12 acres and their moong and urad crop is 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 has received 146.6 mm (35.4 per cent of the average for this time of the year), Sirasdevi circle received 138.8 mm (33.5 per cent of the average) and Talwada circle has 143.6 mm (34.6 per cent of the average).
According to Talwada sarpanch Radhakrishna Shingane, the release of water from Jayakwadi through its right bank canal, which runs 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.”