On the eve of the commencement of the ongoing legislative session, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was rather upbeat about the state’s ability to tackle the drought. “Drought is not new to the state; we know how to tackle it,” said a seemingly confident Chavan. Had Raju Bidve from village Valuj in Aurangabad known this, he probably would not have taken the drastic step of ending his life. A week before Chavan made this gallant statement, Bidve considered consuming bitter pesticides than face one of the severe droughts witnessed by the state in the last four decades. Due to depleting ground water level in drought-hit regions of Maharashtra, Bidve’s attempts to get water from two wells he had dug were rendered unsuccessful. Though wells running dry due to depleting ground water levels is a common problem particularly in Marathawada region, Bidve chose to end his struggle in an uncommon manner. This was one of the third reported suicides in the span of 15 days from Marathwada, a predominant drought-prone region.
NCP Chief Sharad Pawar—among the senior politicians of the state who had seen the 1971 famine—said that the present crisis was far worse. In 1972, water was not a problem but it was food that was scarce, whereas now food is available but water has become scarce, Pawar had said.
Rainfall in Maharashtra has been playing truant for the past two years which has led to the drought in the state. In 2012, of the 33 districts, 10 received rainfall between 50 per cent and 75 per cent. Fifteen districts got slightly more than 75 per cent rainfall and only seven districts got more than 75 per cent rainfall. Among these 136 talukas received deficient rainfall.
The lack of adequate rains for a second successive year in many parts of Maharashtra meant that the state’s reservoirs and dams that supply water to the people were not filled to the capacity when the monsoon season ended last year. In Pune, dams were filled only till 71 per cent of its total capacity, 74 per cent in Amravati and a dismal 17 per cent in Marathwada. In the eight districts of Marathwada, 706 tankers deployed by the government are providing water to the 504 villages and 170 hamlets. Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat who hails from Aurangabad in Marathwada region said that this was first time that even cities like Aurangabad, Jalna, Osmanabad, etc were facing water shortage. “This is first time we are dependending on tankers for drinking water as early as in March, otherwise it is only at the fag end of the summer. Drinking water is supplied through tankers once in week and sometimes if we are fortunate we get twice a week,” said Nitin Karale, a resident of semi-urban village of Nagapur Vadgoan in Parner taluka of Aurangabad which has a population of seven lakh. However, people like Karale are fortunate to get water at least once a week. There are places such as in Jalna which get water once in a month that too for 15-30 minutes. Unanimously supported by all political parties, the city of Manmad in Nashik district had observed a day-long bandh in February demanding better water supply. Manmad residents get water once in a month in their taps.
According to Chavan, 1,663 villages and 4,490 hamlets that are facing water scarcity due to the drought are being quenched by 2,136 water tankers. He said budget for 2012-14 had made a provision for Rs 2,000 crore and the Union Government has already allocated Rs 574 crore for drought relief. What it means is that about 30 lakh people, majority of whom are from Marathwada region, have had no other source of drinking water other than tanker water.
Allocations of huge amounts of funds do not necessarily translate into drought relief as tanker operators make a killing by submitting inflated bills and dubious claims of water supply. Officials who try to keep a check on the tanker mafia are arbitrarily transferred. Nobody would know this better than Beed District Collector Sunil Kendrekar who after returning from a three week training from abroad was asked not to resume duty. Kendrekar literally kept a hawk-eye vigil on the drought relief measures. To prevent false claims by contractors who were assigned to set up cattle fodder shelters, he installed surveillance cameras at these locations. He even got the tanker contractors to refund Rs 1 crore that were falsely claimed by submitting inflated bills. After a huge outcry, protests by the public and government officers’ association, the government clarified that Kendrekar would remain in his post.
Officials such as Kendrekar are not in all places to ensure the drought relief is implemented in its true sense. At Bhankawadi in Shirur, where tanker waters are yet to make their appearance, villagers utilise the slimy green water from the well. As this water is also depleting, a bath is a luxury.
The conditions of the speechless animals are far worse than human beings. Though the government is harping on setting up cattle fodder shelters where feed and water is provided free of cost to the farmers, in some places it has just remained on paper. “The drinking water which is supplied once in two or three days is not enough for the people and the cattle. We have not heard about cattle feed shelters in our village. The sugar factories have made some arrangements which is not sufficient,” said Vilas Kashid whose family hails from Wadgaopan in Sangamner Taluka of Ahmednagar district.
At least domesticated animals have people to take their care, worse is the case of those living in the wild. MP Raju Shetti said that in drought-hit region, 250 monkeys were found dead in the forest. He said that officials believe the monkeys perished due to acute dehydration. In Balaghat bird sanctuary at Osmanabad, seven peacocks were found dead due to dehydration. Wild animals such as panthers and deer venturing into residential areas in search of water have become a common occurrence.
The Sunday Standard