India’s big drought is no stranger to Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh. With the economy collapsing over large swathes, people migrate as a last resort. It’s both a coping tactic and a survival strategy: the children and the aged left behind can use the few traces of water left, while the able-bodied earn a fighting wage in the cities.
However, since the ration card has to be kept alive, the migrants return for one day a month to draw their provisions lest their names be scratched from the welfare list.
A drought without end can lead to weird effects. In the village of Kutalapalle, for instance, along came an astrologer and said he knew why there was a famine. The 100-year-old peepul tree at the local Ram temple was higher than the gopuram, how dare it. And so the villagers chopped the tree in half and are now waiting for the rains to come.
ANANTAPUR: “Has my father come?” asks Divakar, hope flickering in his tender eyes as he runs into his house straight from school. “Ledura (no), he will come next month and bring you lots of toys from Bengaluru,” replies his uncle Eswarayya. The 12-year-old dumps his bag, changes his dress and gets on his tricycle to ride along an empty street lined by an endless sequence of locked houses.
Kutapalle village in Nallamada mandal of Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh is a ghost town. Half the houses there are locked.
You find only the aged walking about or kids playing in streets. The Kadiri region of Anantapur, straddling the mandals of Nallamada, Amadaguru, and Odisi, once populated by farmers, is now a seamless zone of absence, its populace gone to Bengaluru, Kochi, Chennai, Coimbatore and, if educated, the Gulf.
Divakar’s father Madhav Reddy does visit his son once a month. “But at his age, Divakar needs parental affection and guidance. We villagers are cursed. Our children are not fortunate,” says Eswarayya. The uncle himself is planning to migrate next month. “My cousin suggested that I do. We too have debts. The wages we get here are not even enough to pay interest,” he says.
The families all have similar stories to tell: loans borrowed, hefty interest paid, borewells dug, crops sown, crops failed, and then the drought — the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The Scheduled Caste Colony in Kutapalle epitomises the tragedy. Out of its 50 families, 20 have migrated and more are about to move. Over 40 per cent of houses are covered in caked dust.
“My son J Nagappa works in a factory. He earns Rs 7, 000 and my daughter-in-law works as a maid for a pittance. I take care of their children here, as they study in a government school near Kadiri. He sends me money monthly and clears our debts. What else can we do!” laments J Gangappa, a septuagenarian, the wrinkles on his face thickening in frustration. A little away, Bhavani (55), attending to household chores outside her house, casts a curious glance. Visitors are few and far between here.
She has a two-year-old grandson Vishnu to take care of. “I have health issues, but I have to take care of my grandson. My son and daughter-in-law work at a mango farm in Rayachoti . We have a debt of `4 lakh. Sometimes, looking at Vishnu, I cry and wonder what crime he has committed to be punished like this. Our village is cursed!” Bhavani sobs.
The migrants visit for a day every month. They have to. They draw their subsidy rice and other essential commodities at the fair price shop and carry some to Bengaluru. If they do not draw their rations for three times consecutively, their names will be struck off the list.
Thanks to deficit rainfall this year, more farmers are gearing up to leave in the next two months. The few who remain survive by selling milk and doing odd jobs that fetch them not more than Rs 100 a day. “Most villagers work as farm hands for other farmers. Due to scanty rainfall, farming has stopped in our village. Generally, farmers do NREGS works like digging farm ponds, but now such works are no longer there”, says N Sriramulu, a resident of Nallamada. Even if such works are available, it is a difficult business in the hot weather.
Bureaucratic red tape doubles their misery. Sources in the irrigation department said NREGS bills worth nearly Rs 57 crore have been pending in the district for the last eight months.
Much farther from the village, farmers from Singanamala region are also migrating in search of daily wages. As we wind our way back, we couldn’t help wonder if this region will turn into a desert or has it already?
out of the last 100 years Anantapur experienced severe drought
Anantapur is reportedly the second lowest rainfall receiving district in the country after Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
In 2006, the Central government named Anantapur one of the country's 250 most backward districts and it is one of the 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF)
In January, Anantapur's collector sought a central assistance of I2,161.38 crore for the drought-stricken district