Sunday, 17 March 2013

Some Glimpses of Drought in Maharashtra

Day I 11 March 2013
Agro-climatically speaking the central part of Maharashtra is drought prone. With average rainfall of 400 mm per year that too distributed only for four months of the year, there are chances of some years getting less than average. This year ie in the monsoon season in year 2012, the rainfall received in this region was below 200 mm. The area has never been assured of a certain amount of rainfall every year but history has it that it has rarely gone below 200 mm. The soil type commonly found in this area is called black cotton soil and has very high clay content. The soil does not allow the percolation of water in the ground easily making ground water resources very scarce.
I visited this region this week and spent 3 days in this drought affected area speaking with people and visiting their fields. Here is reportage and my commentary on the same.
My first stop was Karmala. Though technically this Taluka in Solapur district falls in drought prone area, a larger number of its villages are not affected by the drought since they get benefit from the backwater from the dams which surround this Taluka. Then within those generally unaffected villages there are those households which get water and those which do not. Because of abundance of water that is available in the reservoirs surrounding this area, sugarcane farming has picked up a lot and there are 4 sugar factories which provide a ready market for the farmers’ produce. Farmers find it remunerative not because it offers good prices and good productivity but it is the easiest crop to grow. It requires less labour and marketing is not a problem. Sugarcane factories employ workers to harvest sugarcane and take it to the factory. Farmers just go and collect the payments. It is known as a lazy man’s crop, with a large number of farmers falling for this crop.
I meet some farmers who belong to a nomadic tribe called Dhangars. Dhangars have been traditionally engaged in sheep herding. These days they have settled and do not practice nomadic lifestyle. Their crops have failed this year and their wells and borewells used for irrigation have dried up. Thanks to their large herds of goats and sheep maintained by them, they still have some source of income left alive. With two hand pump operated tubewells still giving out water, their demands of water for home use and feeding livestock are being met.
A Dhangar farmer with his sheep and goats.
I meet one more farmer from Dhangar tribe who does not keep any livestock these days. His well has almost dried up. He can no longer irrigate his sugarcane crop. The meagre quantities of water that become available after 7-8 days are used for survival of his lemon plantation. He is not sure about the availability of the water in the coming months. Still he thanks for the soil conservation work that was undertaken in the area. The well which could have dried two months back like the others in the village has not still completely dried up because of that work.
We meet an officer from the local agricultural department to understand agriculture under the drought conditions. A local political leader comes there to meet him. He wants a copy of the plan developed by the agricultural department for the area so that he can go to the minister and do some advocacy for the same. I found that the leader was talking a lot about his connections to leaders like Sharad Pawar and Ajitdada Pawar and boasting about his not minding to go to ministers from other party for getting drought mitigation work done in his area. At no point he discussed what actually needed to be done as solution for the drought.

Day II, 12 March 2013
I was told on the earlier day that approximately 20 plus villages have been severely hit by the drought. We visited that area to develop a better understanding of the situation.
Village of Sode has a small hamlet of Pardhi people. This tribe is the one which has been engaged in robberies and theft. They have a unique dialect of their own which cannot be easily understood by the other people. These 20 families are amongst the few who have received permanent houses. An NGO called Mahatma Phule Samajik Sewa Mandal has undertaken the work of their settlement. We talk with them about water, they start complaining that the local borehole is discharging very little quantities of water. For filling one pot of 20 lit it takes them 1 hour. If that water stops, they are going to have very hard time since the disputes between the main village and their habitation have not stopped.
A hamlet of the Pardhi community
Neighbouring village of Salshe hosts a fodder camp. Visit to the camp brings one to the realisation how severe is the condition. The camp is run by the local dairy co-operative with financial support from government. Farmers were not complaining much about the fodder camp and were thankful for their services. There were total of about 1000 animals tied in the camp. The farmers were also staying in the same camp looking after their own animals. The animals were fed sugarcane which is not a natural fodder for them but there was no other option since large number of farmers have started cutting down their sugarcane prematurely because of lack of irrigation water. Farmers were telling us that after prolonged feeding on sugarcane the mouths of the animals get wounds. It was very sad to see the high milk yielding cross bred cows, strong bullocks and beautiful young calves tied in that fodder camp but there was no other way they could be saved. The grants that are given to the organisations running those camps is very meagre being only 70 Rs per day per animal, in which they have to manage the entire fodder and water supply for the camp.The local dairy cooperative is doing its best to help out the local people. Farmers questioned, "we can go anywhere in this world and survive somehow, but how can our animals do that? Something will have to be done for them."
A Fodder Camp
We come back to Sode to visit farm of Sanjay Chaudhari. He shows me various water harvesting structures developed in the village. Most of these have been built at wrong sites and do not store water for long. Many of these have faulty construction with most of the water getting leaked out within a short period of time after entering in the dams. Sanjay Chaudhari’s farm has some green patches that stand out from the parched landscape. He uses only drip system to irrigate his fodder plots which are being used for his cattle. His well has already gone dry and his borewell is giving very slow discharge. He told me that while all the farmers neglected their Sorghum crop, he cultivated it by using drip irrigation. By that way he could get 18 quintals of grain from 0.8 ha of area. He tells me that had the water supply been proper, he is sure that it would have given him 40 quintals of grain. I believe him.
A dried open well
A lone surviving fodder plot of Sanjay Chaudhari
We visit a village called Nanavare vasti, where Dhanaji Nanavare and many like him had planted guava, lemon and pomegranate orchards. All the borewells which were being used for the irrigation had completely gone dry. The entire orchards had dried up and dead. One lone surviving lemon orchard of Dhanaji was also on the verge of death as the last water source had just dried up four days back. With still three dry months to go farmers had lost their hope. The village is also suffering as it has become dependent on the supply of water from the government, which sends a tanker every four days. Many of them do not have bigger storage tanks and face difficulty. The excess of water that is not taken by the villagers is poured in the village well and later on pumped to the village tank. It results in huge losses of water but nobody can help with it.As we left Nanaware vasti and started on the main road towards Solapur, a dead stray buffalo lying in the field catched my eye. There was nothing we could do about it and just kept driving further.
A dried Guava plantation of Dhanaji Nanavare
Day III- 13 March 2013
I visited a residential school run by an organisation called Jnana Prabodhini. This school having more than 600 students tried to run on the meagre water supplies bought from other people in the viscinity. They had to close the session early because of early water storage. The campus has huge orchard spreading on 50 acres and with lack of irrigation, the story is the same as was seen before in the villages. The lemon orchard has dried up. Ber and guava orchards cannot produce fruits this year. Their only hope is 300 mango and some tamarind trees which has a good bearing because of use of water conservation measures such as drip irrigation and mulching. Dr. Anna Tamhankar, the founder of the school, had grafted a number of varieties on a single seedling originated mango tree some years back. This beautifully shaped tree still stands strongly and majestically on the dry black landscape just like Dr. Tamhankar who has been able to manage such big school in spite of the huge difficulties in front of him.

A mango tree, still lush green in spite of the drought
I move further to a town called Umarga. I am speaking with the local staff of the organisation called Samaj Vikas Sanstha and they tell me that the town gets water supply every 15 days. The electricity supply is also erratic and majority of the times the job of pumping water from the borewells has to be done in the mid night. The women laughingly told me that because of that it has reduced the number of robberies in the town as people remain awake and the town remains lively till late after midnight.
My last conversation with the local community takes place at a village called Handral which lies on the border with neighbouring Gulbarga district of Karnataka. It is placed on a higher rocky ground from where gently rolling hills slope down towards a northern dry plateau of Maharashtra. Being far away from both the headquarters, the village receives little attention from the district as well as taluka administration. The village had received number of awards for their well managed drinking water supply scheme. The open well has gone dry there and the neighbouring bore well is giving out small amounts of water. The villagers can not pump water directly from the borewell and link it to the village supply because of smaller capacity of pump and lesser discharge. They pump it and take it to the well. After four to five days, once there is enough water available in the well, they lift it to the main water tank and supply it to the village. Out of the 165 families in the village, almost 150 families have some or other person gone to the cities in search of manual labour work. They say that if water situation worsens further, we might find the village completely empty after a month. 
The villagers show us a spot where there are two springs which are emitting tiny flow of water which have made a muddy puddle on the ground. There might be some more springs down there in the ground and clogged due to mud. They request us to help for its development. The NGO people tell them to do some voluntary labour and clear that muddy spot, after which they will be bringing in some help for them. Villagers are not sure but they say it might be possible. The NGO head, Bhumiputra Wagh tells them that they would come again and the villagers will have to tell them their decision. Villagers agree for that. They might come together for that work or might not. Whether the solution will help them or not, I don’t know. 
The mud filled spring in the village
On my way back to catch the train to Mumbai, we visit one more fodder camp, , a totally private philanthropic initiative, in a village called Kavatha. Here they have numbered each animal. No wastage is allowed here even for a single piece of grass or a drop of water. They have people employed day and night to supervise the work on the camp. There are no government run fodder camp facilities in the Taluka and this single facility is the last hope for farmers from the villages in the 20 km periphery around it.
I board the train with my mind full of thoughts and images of the last three days spent in the area. I still don’t know many things and I know some things now for myself and for sure. I know now that one needs to act. One needs to use one’s water account properly. It cannot be overdrawn any longer.

My thanks go to following people for facilitating my visit to these areas,
1. Mr. Pramod Zinjade, Mahatma Phule Samaj Seva Mandal, Karmala, Dist. Solapur
2. Dr. Anna Tamhankar, Jnana Prabodhini, Harali, Dist. Osmanabad
3. Mr. Bhumiputra Wagh, Samaj Vikas Sanstha, Umarga, Dist. Osmanaba