BALLARI/RAICHUR: Never-ending expanses of brown, sunburnt land contrast with the azure-blue sky in large parts of Karnataka, reeling under one of its worst droughts.
While people view the drought as nature’s curse, they are further distressed by the farce being played out in the name of relief.
The women of Belagal tanda (hamlet), 15 km from Ballari, collect water from a borewell all morning. The men just laze about.
“There is no farming or industry here. Even mining has stopped. What do we do?” asks Mangaiya Naik (45). Pointing to many locked houses in the hamlet, Saraswathi and Aruna Bai say entire families have migrated to Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mandya in search of jobs.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a government initiative intended to help villages in dire circumstances. “They use earthmovers and get work done, which is against the norms. And it takes up to three months for us to get our wages,” said a resident of Belagal tanda.
As we drive on, an abandoned water purification plant stands out like an eyesore in Chellagurki village, where people pay Rs 20 for a pot of drinking water. That’s something the people find exorbitant.
The villagers have no clue why the purification plant has remained incomplete for a year.
“We are forced to buy drinking water from a private supplier called Govinda Reddy from Andhra Pradesh, which is just 5 km away. For Reddy, it is a lucrative business. He brings water from his borewell and has even installed his own water purification unit,” said Hanumana Gouda, a resident of Chellgurki.
Reddy brings 5,000 litres in a Syntex tank loaded on to his vehicle, and collects Rs 10 to Rs 20 a pot, delivering water from door to door in the morning. He is making a killing even as people curse Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, and his predecessors D V Sadananda Gowda and B S Yeddyurappa, who had promised a water purification unit here.
Those who can’t afford Reddy’s water are drinking hard borewell water, and suffering from joint pains.
Heading north towards Siraguppa taluk, you see more distress: the Vedavati river has vanished. But people are desperately scraping the riverbed to collect whatever little water they can.“The water being supplied from a lake is contaminated. There is no water purification unit in our village,” said a resident.
People in Masalapura village in neighbouring Raichur district have to climb up a hill to get drinking water. A tap at a temple atop the hill is the only source of drinking water for the village. It is a risky trek every day for the girls and the women. The water supplied to the village from a borewell is being used for washing and cleaning.
Though Siddaramaiah has visited drought-hit areas and held meetings with officials, the reality is that all that has made no difference on the ground.
“There are a few run by charitable organisations, but nothing by the government,” said Ramareddy Gouda, president of the Manslapura gram panchayat. The situation is no different in Raichur district. People here shell out Rs 6,000 for a tractor load of green fodder from Manvi, 40 km away.
In many places, cattle herds are marched long distances in search of green patches as most farmers can’t afford to buy green feed. The loss of cotton, groundnut and maize in Ballari and Raichur districts has left farmers at the mercy of moneylenders.
“In Maledevaragudda village in Devadurga taluk, elderly people swarm us, assuming we are district officials. They have not received a single paisa even four months after applying for crop loss compensation.”
People in some hamlets curse the officials for the pittance given out as compensation: Rs 1,200 to Rs 2,000.
In Raichur district, corruption is rampant in the rural employment guarantee scheme, villagers tell us. Many villagers are on the register, but no work is provided.
“Officials use earthmovers, dig up trenches, and pocket the money meant for us,” Narasappa in Maledevaragudda.