Since mid-September, Ramprasad Gayaki has been making the rounds of the length and breadth of his home district Beed to arrange fodder for his herd of 15 buffaloes. Gayaki, a resident of Soudana in Beed, says it has become almost impossible to find fodder and water as a severe drought spreads across the region.
Gayaki and other villagers say the local administration is yet to respond to their applications for water tankers and fodder camps (where villagers can avail food and water for their animals). “It is as if they refuse to acknowledge the drought,” he says.
Around 130 km from Soudana, residents of Manmodi, a village in neighbouring Georai taluka, are worried about the fate of their animals as fodder and water run out. Dynaneshwar Deokar, whose family has taken up cane harvesting work elsewhere in the region, leaving the 18-year-old and his aged grandmother alone at home, says one family member travels back to the village every two days to supply the green ‘tops’ of harvested cane that serve as fodder for their 10 buffaloes. “There is no other way — our 12 acres of kharif yielded just 2 quintals of bajra. Without the tops, our animals will have no other fodder,” he says.
As rural Maharashtra once again finds itself in the grip of a major drought with fodder and water fast becoming scarce, farmers are complaining of a lack of early government intervention. The state has recorded 30 per cent deficit rain, with districts in Marathwada and North Maharashtra reporting the lowest precipitation. For now, lack of fodder and water top the farmers’ concerns.
Across talukas in Aurangabad, Osmanabad, Beed and Jalna, villagers say they have made requests for work under MGNREGA, but are still to hear from the administration. The state government’s Rs 7,000-crore drought relief proposal before the Central government is yet to be finalised, but on ground, resentment about the lack of timely relief has generated much anger.
Drinking water is already scarce, but only 375 tankers have been operationalised as of November 17 across the Marathwada region, serving a population of 6,91,304 in 296 selected villages. As many as 313 of these tankers are in Aurangabad district, while Beed has only got 12 tankers, Osmanabad three and Jalna 45. “After repeatedly asking for water tankers, our village of 2,800 residents now gets one tanker a day. There’s the usual fight as everybody rushes to get their share,” says Sanjay Adhane of Viramgaon in Aurangabad.
Raju Varkad, Khultabad taluka president of the Shiv Sena, says the administration’s response to people’s demand for water tankers has been slow. “Where at least three tankers are needed, they send one. The drinking water crisis is already severe – women are walking long distances to find sources of water,” says Varkad.
District-level authorities say they’re awaiting an official declaration on the fodder policy. The collectors of Solapur and Osmanabad have prohibited transportation of fodder outside their districts, but there is no indication that fodder camps will be opened soon. Osmanabad Collector R B Game says a project to grow fodder crops along the sides of tanks and dams that have water is underway.
Meanwhile, the animal husbandry department has proposed a direct transfer of cash for farmers to grow fodder instead of setting up fodder camps. The proposed scheme has been widely met with derision among farmers who ask where is the water to grow any crop. “The only solution is to supply fodder or give us money to buy fodder,” says Gayaki.
Prof H M Desarda, economist and former member of the state’s planing commission, says he remembers the 1972 drought, and the large public works made available to people at the time were, in fact, a precursor to Maharashtra’s employment guarantee law. “Now in the villages there is no presence of any government official, there is nobody trying to see what measures are needed and can be put in place,” he says.