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In the middle of monsoon season in Marathwada, no water to drink

Officials don’t just fear upsetting the political heavyweights of Solapur when water is taken from Ujani, which feeds large parts of the district and has a stock of 58 tmc.

Central Railway General Manager Sunil Sood is getting four oil wagons steam-washed. If rains do not oblige and Latur’s water stock runs out completely in a fortnight, as feared, it could be on these wagons that water is transported to the town of 5 lakh people from Ujani dam 170 km away.

Officials don’t just fear upsetting the political heavyweights of Solapur when water is taken from Ujani, which feeds large parts of the district and has a stock of 58 tmc. They also have to work out where to park the rail wagons in Latur once emptied, as well as how to navigate an unprecedented number of tankers through Latur railway station’s rudimentary infrastructure.

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Divisional Commissioner Umakant Dangat says another option being considered is bringing water to Latur from an NTPC pipeline running through Kurduwadi, 150 km from Latur.

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All of Marathwada region, comprising eight districts, is experiencing a 50 per cent deficit in rainfall. Government data shows its 833 small, medium and large dam projects together have just 7.8 per cent water storage as of August 28, compared to 22.76 per cent on the same date last year. Municipal areas are down to water supply once every eight to 10 days.

As of August 28, the total average rainfall received in the region was 252.42 mm, with four districts receiving less than 50 per cent of their average rainfall for this time of the year. With a month to go for the end of the monsoon, the state government is already mulling declaring such talukas drought-hit.

In worst-hit Beed, Parbhani and Osmanabad districts, they are talking of this being the worst drought here ever. “The 1972 drought was one of foodgrain,” says Limbaji Mogar, who owns 60 acres in Parbhani’s Nagthana village. “This time, there’s plenty of foodgrain but no money to buy it, and no water to drink even if we sell our gold for it, right in the middle of what you call a monsoon season.”

Parobai Shinde, 72, is on her way to a farm well 2 km from her home in Manyarwadi village in Beed district, to fetch water when she and a neighbour are offered some work of weeding. There’s no water at home, but then there’s no cash either. She rushes to the field, but 10 women are already there. “Luckily we’re all getting paid,” smiles the grandmother.

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The handful of farm wells around Manyarwadi that are still yielding water, though muddy, will dry up soon. Money will come in handy then, when tankers have to be requisitioned, even if daily farm wages are down from Rs 100 to Rs 60 per day for women, and Rs 150 to Rs 100 a day for men.

The 15-acre field where Parobai and the others get down to work has stunted cotton crop, which will yield the owner not even 50 per cent of his sowing costs. One of the two men in the group is Kisan Jadhav who, till a few years ago, would pay Rs 1 lakh annually in wages to labourers on his farm.

These days he worries the most for his cattle pair. “We can manage with a pot of water all day for the entire family,” he says, “but try putting a 10-litre vessel of water in front of a thirsty buffalo and see how fast it goes.”

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Across the road, Bharat Sonmali and his brother are reploughing their 30-acre landholding, the cotton and soyabean they had sown having withered after a 50-day dry spell. The women of the Sonmali household come to the farm wells, a 4-km trek, three times a day for water.

In Chikalthana village in Parbhani, small farmer Vishnu Korde says 80 per cent of villagers have taken loans against gold apart from what they owe private moneylenders. “Water is not just an essential commodity for us — how thirsty we are defines our earning capacity, our animals’ longevity, and therefore our assets, or rising debt,” Korde says.

Villagers in Selu and neighbouring Jintur talukas in Parbhani district talk of paying Rs 10 to Rs 15 per three pots of water from private water-tankers, and that is only for household use. Those with large animal herds must spend long hours walking cattle to drinking water sources, or somehow buttress their purchasing power.

The state government has sanctioned funds for camps in three districts, Osmanabad, Latur and Beed. Parbhani’s application for camps is pending.

But, about 160 km away in Aurangabad, as officials compute scarcity norms of per-person-per-day thirst, Manyarwadi or Chikalthana do not register even as a blip. The big challenge is Latur. Manjara dam, “Latur’s lifeline” as Divisional Commissioner Dangat describes it, has run completely dry. Nearby Majalgaon dam is not much better.

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Aurangabad, Marathwada’s other big city, at least has the Jayakwadi dam, even if the water levels there too are dipping. Central Railway officer Sood says the state government has indicated there may be a need to transport water by rail. “The details of the route are not final,” he adds.

Prasad Chikshe of Ambejogai in Beed, an IIT graduate who is with Gnyana Prabodhini, a pan-Maharashtra organisation working on issues of rural development, puts the number of borewells in the district, as recorded by agriculture officers, at almost 1 lakh. “The real number, including those in urban areas like Ambejogai, may be five times as many,” he says, talking about farmers as well as urban households going to increasing, unsustainable depths for water.

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In Sarnisangvi village of the district, Uddhav Gholve, a teacher and a farmer, is doing his math for the coming month’s expenses. Gholve and around 25 other teachers at the Srivithal Secondary School and Junior College pool in around Rs 10,000 monthly to get private tankers to the school, whose well has dried up. He hasn’t visited his own 5-acre field for 25 days now, fearful of the state he may find his cotton and soyabean crops in. At home, wife Suvarna rations water between their two children and animals, saving some for unexpected guests, ensuring not a drop is wasted.

Gholve says primary health centres and rural hospitals are all crippled by water scarcity. From maintaining hygiene to providing sufficient drinking water, rural hospital nurses and doctors in Marathwada are almost entirely dependent on borewells and tankers.

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Back in Manyarwadi village, Parobai has collected her Rs 60, drawn the water from a farm well and is rushing again, back home. No food was cooked at home today, her son and his family also out looking for work. “This has been one long summer,” sighs the 70-year-old. “Longer than any I remember.”

First published on: 31-08-2015 at 09:31:03 pm
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