Known for its grapes,the Manerajuri village in Tasgoan taluka of Sangli is also famous for having the highest number of borewells in the state. The estimates provided by the Groundwater Survey and Development Authority (GSDA) put the figure at over 10,000,all of which have incidentally run dry this year,with the state facing one of the most severe droughts.
While grapes have surely brought prosperity to the village,it has also resulted in severe depletion of its groundwater table,say irrigation and agricultural experts experts. And the absence of any specific groundwater recharging scheme has resulted in the borewells running dry. The experts point out the folly of extensive cultivation of grapes in Manerajuri,which as such receives less rainfall,with the taluka of Tasgaon falling in the rainshadow area of Sangli.
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Manerajuri has 3,500 acres of vineyards and almost 98 per cent of its nearly 20,000 population is engaged in this business. Villagers take pride in the fact that Manerajuri has the highest production of grapes in the state. Other than internal trade,the grapes of Manerajuri also find international markets,with agents from foreign countries visiting the village directly to buy the product. On an average,per acre of vineyard usually yields Rs 3-4 lakh for the farmer.
Grape being a water-intensive crop,the demand for water to both sustain the vineyards and ensure better crops is always high in the village.
Every grape plant requires 2-3 litres of water on a daily basis,which is supplied through drip irrigation. With no sustained irrigation scheme,the villagers of Manerajuri had started digging borewells to meet both their drinking and irrigation water needs.
Sachin Jamdade,former sarpanch of the village,says every acre of cultivated land has three to four borewells on an average.
Though the grape crop was introduced to the village only around 30 years ago,the easy money provided by it accelerated the process of borewell digging.
With Maharashtra having no specific set of laws about the requirement of permission for this,Jamdade and other villagers say they dig borewells as and when required. In case the existing borewell dries out,we immediately dig another one. On an average,we need to spend anything between Rs 50,000 and Rs 70,000 for the whole set-up, says Arvind Thorbole,another villager.
The procedure for the digging,too,is quite haphazard and ad hoc in the village.
We dig a new borewell near the area where someone has already hit water. The rate of success varies and luck plays a big role, says Jamdade. The average depth of the borewells in the village is around 500 feet. I had tried to dig around 600 feet,but still did not get any water for my fields, he adds.
Asked about the methods undertaken by the villagers to recharge the groundwater table,the villagers say they have not received any input from the government agencies about the same.
Also,the village does not have a water conservation committee that is supposed to look after the issues of water conservation and groundwater recharging.
The low rainfall last year and this years drought have resulted in all the borewells now running dry. Many villagers have converted portions of their agricultural fields into temporary irrigation tanks and are storing water for usage later. The average expenditure for construction of such temporary structures comes to around Rs 50,000 and we have to spend extra for pumping the water. The government is allowing subsidies,which sadly do not match up to our expectations, says Shashikant Jamdade,yet another farmer.
Suresh Khandale,Additional Director,GSDA,says over-exploitation of the groundwater is the reason why the borewells are running dry.
The revenue area of the village is around 36 sq km and it has over 10,000 borewells. A direct fallout of this is the depletion of the groundwater, he says.
Reeling under the drought,many farmers are fighting to keep their vineyards alive. They have already incurred losses to the tune of Rs 1-2 lakh per acre.
We have put in a lot of money for irrigation and the crop yield has suffered a lot, says one of the villagers.
The farmers are now worried about repaying the loans they had taken last year.
Learning from the losses incurred,the villagers now claim to have started working on various water conservation schemes,like construction of check dams.