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The news hit briefly. A few comments, some photos. Farmers from drought stricken Maharashtra and disabled people were protesting at CST station.There was no major news story. In fact the first major story on the subject was what the police did about it. The Times of India did a two paragraph report:

MUMBAI: A day after a mob of 2,000 farmers and physically challenged people laid siege to CST, security agencies registered criminal cases against them and are scrutinizing footage from CCTV cameras to identify the accused.

The RPF has booked the protestors under the Indian Railway Act for trespass, obstructing the running of trains, obstructing railway employees in their duties, drunkenness or nuisance and endangering safety of commuters. The GRP has also booked the protestors for unlawful assembly and wrongful restraint. A probe is on and no arrests have been made yet, said officials.

Now this is interesting. Whatever "obstruction" the farmers did at CST did not hit Twitter. I know, because I was checking. I find this impossible to believe that people getting inconvenienced at Mumbai's largest train station would not generate whines on Twitter, when the smallest train delays will do it anyway. In fact, the only news on the subject came from DNA reporter Rajendra Aklekar, who seems to exclusively cover trains, tweeting a photo or two. Incidentally, he mentions a few hundred farmers, which makes a lot more sense and is supported by his photograph than two thousand farmers that nobody noticed. All photos from his timeline.

[Update: I later found an Asian Age article as well as a few first person accounts that paints a drastically different picture. Apparently the several thousand people from various organizations including Prahar Vidyarthi Sanghatana (PVS) that organised the protest and Apang Kranti Andolan, led by independent MLA Bachoo Kadu protested at Azad Maidan since morning. After being ignored, they decided to move to the streets and CST station, intending a protest by staying there till they were assured of attention.

Attention rapidly followed, with the Chief Minister agreeing to fulfill their demands. The "take over" of the station was no more than 45 minutes at most, though traffic snarls on the street lasted longer. The day being a National Holiday is probably why it didn't seem to get noticed on Twitter, with most offices being closed anyway. The protests were peaceful and police too were restrained considering the large numbers of handicapped people in the crowd.

This makes the police investigation of CCTV footage to identify people who led the protest even stranger, since the organizations responsible were clearly named, led by an MLA and in communication with the CM and another MLA Ahir.]

Hundreds farmers/disabled gather at Mumbai <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'><figcaption class=CST railway station 2 press for demands. All ticketless? ~ Rajendra Aklekar, DNA" src="https://aamjanata.com/wp-content/uploads/farmers-cst-300x225.jpg" width="300" height="225" /> Hundreds farmers/disabled gather at Mumbai CST railway station 2 press for demands. All ticketless? ~ Rajendra Aklekar, DNA

I want to accuse upfront that Maharashtra Government hates farmers because of their audacity to die and suffer drought openly, thus exposing the governments utter colonization of the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions. Times of India has long written fiction discrediting farmers protests in favor of Monsanto - the seeds sold by which had been extensively promoted to farmers by government organizations in spite of the fact that they need more cotton to thrive, while the government itself has been the biggest contributor to the destruction of availability of water in the region, while also depriving the people of a decade worth irrigation development that got paid and only bumped up project costs without delivering.

In fact, Sharad Pawar's comment on a day when four farmers committed suicide in Vidarbha was "I don’t see problems in this region being as terrible as [they are] made out to be." One wonders why if water scarcity is not so terrible, he flat out refused to reduce water allocations to sugar factories and make someone else bear the "not so terrible" for a while. He had flat out refused to even consider reducing industries, sugarcane farming and sugar factories that consume insane amounts of water in the middle of the worst drought the region had seen.

I have no idea what the farmers were protesting, but God knows they have plenty to protest about when it comes to their conditions in Maharashtra. For example, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (incidentally installed as a "clean of corruption" option) has done an about turn on the Chitale Committee looking into irregularities in the irrigation scam. From their stated role of fixing responsibility, he has arbitrarily and illegally downgraded their role to acting in an advisory capacity. This follows on the tail of the worst drought in this state. This follows a "clean chit" to Ajit Pawar, who was irrigation minister when the scam happened. This follows water scarcity hitting as soon as monsoons are over. This follows huge issues with credit and compensations for losses. And it could be something else altogether.

The deaf-dumb people seem to be demanding for Indian Sign Language to be formally included in curriculums and recognized as an Indian language as per this photo.

The poster demands better rights and recognition for deaf-dumb people
The poster demands better rights and recognition for deaf-dumb people

Demands in this poster by the Marathwada Deaf Dumb Sports Club and Association are:

  • Teaching Indian Sign Language on primary level.
  • Indian Sign Language should be formally recognized as a language of India
  • Deaf Dumb people should be allowed to drive vehicles.
  • Empty government posts reserved for the deaf and dumb with 100% handicap must be filled.
  • Job opportunities in the private sector should be created for deaf and dumb people through the Companies Act.
  • Families with deaf and dumb members should be given 12 gas cylinders a year.

Strangely our newspapers are not interested in what could have got farmers and disabled people to travel overnight to occupy space in a train station. The one journalist who did click a photo and comment wondered if they had purchased tickets. Then wondered at the speed by which they "took over" the station. A few thousand people taking over the largest station in the city is a bit extreme considering that a single train carries several times that number easily.

The photo shows protesters and police on one track. I am still skeptical about this "take over", since all the photos seem peaceful, there seems to be open space (which wouldn't be if commuters were blocked). Not to mention photos of crowds numbering thousands seem to be way more full of people. This here looks like a normal rush hour crowd - with possibly some people crossing tracks.protesters and <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'>police</strong> on railway track at <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'>CST</strong> station

But what is particularly inspiring is the astonishing promptness of the railway police who are apparently using CCTV footage to identify protesters for "unlawful assembly" - apparently assembling is illegal without Section 144a being applied too, now.

As for obstructing, let us not even get into how many times trains get obstructed without any punitive action whatsoever. In fact, this is the same railway police force that ignored an armed mob traveling on trains before the Mumbai riot in the wake of the Assam riots.

Now it seems they are very interested in law and order. This is so typical of governance in India. It is a formula. Real demands of people don't raise curiosity in media, generate ready (and fake) promises by politicians, and are followed by retaliation against protesters once the moment of crisis is over. I am trying to remember which of the many political and thuggery rail rokos saw anyone arrested - in spite of several cases of vandalism.

Fact of the matter is, rioting and stopping trains for political purposes is not just common, no one expects it to be punished anymore. Then all of a sudden, natives of a colony land up in the area of rulers and make them look bad and well, something needs to be done about them, yes? So it is being done.

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Dear Mr Chavan,

I am not going to talk about irrigation projects and such things that you already have practiced replying. Let us look at what is happening.

Vidarbha always seems to be reeling under drought. Rains fail, crops fail, farmers are not able to repay debts, farmer suicides happen. That is the routine story from there. You are Chief Minister of the state, so you ought to know. Vidarbha happens to be the National capital for farmer suicides. Insufficient irrigation, failing rain and your government promoting BT-cotton that requires more water than normal cotton is an important part of the crop failure.

Here are some headlines to remind you, if you had forgotten:

Last summer, Maharashtra faced drought too. If you forget the Central Sarkar team's visit, you at least probably remember that Rajkumar Gandhi too had visited after them. The drought continued. The corrupt tanker walahs minting a fortune. Pawar had blamed Maharashtra governor, for some reason. Remember?

Cut to a news story in the Times of India on 25th August 2012 - this is when (in theory) Maharashtra gets rain. Vidarbha was facing drought. Vidarbha is mostly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Times of India reported that 14 talukas were drought hit and sowing could be achieved on less than 50% of land. And Vidarbha was lucky with only 14 talukas hit, because western Maharashtra and Marathwada had 100 talukas between them. And we are talking of the monsoon here. It was insufficient, yes, but the water scarcity was happening even during the monsoon season. When monsoon is supposed to provide rain around the year (which has 12 months) 50-60% rainfaill may explain a shortage before the summer, but it does not explain why there is no water immediately after the monsoon.

Nagpur had received more than the average rainfall already at that point.

Fast forward to January, when VJAS raised the alarm on farmer suicides. 10 farmers had committed suicide in the first 15 days of 2013, with three of them on the 14th Jan. They released these numbers for the suicides in 2012. I admit your government disputes these figures, but little your government does leads one to imagine they actually know enough to dispute them. (Image: India Today)

Farmer Suicides per month in Vidarbha for 2012

They accused that false bills were provided for tanker water and cattle feed. What is being done to prevent deprivation of life saving resources to people as well as corruption in aid money?

But anyway, you get the idea that drought is hardly a stranger to this region. Now here are the questions:

What is the explanation for giving priority to industries over agriculture in our state water policy then? Is your government not telling a drought region where agriculture is the occupation for the largest number of people that they are on their own? The irrigation was not developed. Your water policy prefers industries. What water comes to agriculture, over 50% of it goes to the sugarcane sitting on 6% of the land. You are going to have to do some serious explaining how nature can manage such a miracle.

But this is not all. This supposedly natural drought has more such natural miracles involved.

The irrigation scam is horrendous. Ajit Pawar has signed off on the projects. You call it populist initiatives. I fail to understand how it is populist, when the populace itself is cursing you for it, while the people who got the contracts are close cronies and some of them went on to join NCP and BJP. Your coward minister walked out from this programme, but Anjali Damania asks one question. One question without any numbers in it that you should try answering. If the dams had never overflowed, why was their height (and cost) increased?

Sharad Pawar blithely declined to reduce either industries or sugarcane production in the name of profit and jobs. What jobs is he talking about?India has not added jobs in either agriculture or manufacturing since 1995. Sugarcane is the most water intensive crop, and for your idea of profit, it is being promoted in a place of drought. Take a look at this pretty graph DNA ran up along with a look at the devastating impact of the sugarcane Pawar is so attached to.

Sugarcane in drought hit areas (via DNA)

In the meanwhile, your guy in Jalna bullied off the competition to get a tanker contract without having to bid too low. he's giving interviews in media saying how he isn't doing it for profit. However free government tankers are a rare sight and private profiteers are thriving. What are you doing to combat this? Or, as CM, are you saying that poor people can die thristy or drink the mud they show remaining in wells and those who can afford will book tankers? Maybe it is a clever poverty reduction scheme. If poor die, we'll automatically have less poor people. And of course, if they die from daily trips for water under the scorching sun, it is a heat death - perfectly natural, yes?

But it isn't just about a skewed water policy or neglect, your government is overallocating resources. It seems to be allocating water that isn't there! Consider this excellent paper with a postmortem of how you do this with regard to the Ujani Reservoir - a Lift Irrigation sceme that was supposed to be tabled on 1st February 2013 - yep. As you were giving interviews about natural droughts and regrettable populist policies, you were entertaining another con. Incidentally the study mentions that the reservoir hasn't filled in 5 years, has 10 existing lift irrigation schemes and cannot physically contain half the water that has already been allocated from it.

If there are five flats in existence and I get you to fund 10, do you agree that it is a con? Nature does not do allocations.

Last December, the drought was on. Your government was planning water intensive power plants that would further reduce water availability in Wardha and Wainganga rivers. Do you mean to say power plants are like coral reefs - they come up "naturally"?

On the 26th February 2013 (right alongside your sweet talks on the drought), your railway minister presented the budget. In that budget, your INSANE government has proposed a Rail Neer bottling plant in Vidarbha of all places. The first day of the "Advantage Vidarbha meet" on the 25th contains a photo of you smiling magnanimously as deals are struck. Examples:  MoU are power plant equipment manufacture BHEL with an investment of Rs 2,500 crore, and Ambuja Cement with an investment of Rs 3,300 crore; Manikgarh Cements would be investing Rs 1,500 crore and Bhushan Steel would be investing Rs 1,350 crore. What part of this will increase the water available to a perpetually devastated populace? 

CM Chavan at Advantage Vidarbha

For that matter, in a place where the water table is often at 500ft, where will the water for these industries come from? Let me guess? From your miracle water policy of course! This was not Advantage Vidarbha, it was "taking advantage of Vidarbha".

Speaking of water table, why didn't your government invest in water harvesting? It is cheap, it is fast, it is effective, it is easy and it would heal the decimated water table of this region. Let me guess, small projects don't have pocket liners that make them interesting?

Nature cannot explain this, unless you mean it is a natural drought brought about by the greedy nature of politicians and their cronies.

A furious Maharashtrian.

 

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The Indian state has managed to keep the devastating drought in the country out of the National consciousness. Just as it has kept quiet the massive destruction of water resources, falling water tables and sale of water and waterbodies to private players while people and their lands thirst.

What is the situation really?

314 villages of four districts in Odisha are drought-hit, Balasore (278), Bhadrak (4), Mayurbhanj (8) and Nuapada (24). Revenue minister S N Patro told the assembly that the declaration was made based on the crop-cutting experiment report received from collectors of these districts which expects 50% crop loss. Affected farmers of the areas would be eligible to get compensation as per the relief code.

31 out of 32 districts in Tamil Nadu are drought hit. Water channels in the Cauvery delta have dried up, and farmers have suffered massive crop losses, harvesting 10% to 30% of normal yields. Cattle farmers in Tamil Nadu are reeling under scarce and increasingly expensive feed and fodder following drought. A 50kg bag of cattle feed went from Rs.600/- to more than Rs.1000/- within a year. Profits are becoming unsustainable.

Maharashtra (the five year unbeaten champ of farmer suicides and ten year successful robbery of irrigation development) is in a dire condition. Maharashtra is facing the worst drought since 1972 with over 7000 villages in 123 talukas (including entire Marathwada) affected. 1,663 villages and 4,490 hamlets are completely dependent on tanker water supply by 2,136 tankers. Among the worst hit, 236 villages and 1,291 hamlets in Solapur depend on 279 tankers for drinking wate. 230 villages and 986 hamlets in Ahmednagar struggle with 270 tankers. People who can't afford tanker water search for water for long and even seek broken pipes.

Ill planned mass conversion from traditional crops to the perpetually water thirsty cash crops in a land with very little irrigation (less than a fifth of total agricultural land is irrigated), combined with a genocidally corrupt government stealing funds for irrigation has led to devastation on an enormous scale. India will see a 3-5% drop in foodgrain production due to this drought in Maharashtra.

An entire decade saw the addition of 0.1% of irrigated land. Abject neglect of protection of the water table, water harvesting, forest conservation compounds that with a rapidly depleting water table. There isn't even MNREGA work available without water. Many have not seen water come from a tap since November. Others in Jalna haven't seen water come from their tap for years.

There are appeals to donate sintex tanks to store water delivered by tankers. Presumably because the thirsty earth soaks it right out of wells used for the purpose.

Crops are gone, trees in orchards are dying devastating years of work. An alarmed state government is considering methods for monitoring distress migration out of drought affected areas. The state cabinet has decided to charge 60 crores to cooperative and private sugar factories toward providing drinking water to drought hit regions. An interesting state of affairs, is this an official admission of the outrageously exploitative inequality of water supply (more than half of Maharashtra's water supply goes to sugarcane, which is 6% of cultivated land) being compensated with an emergency one time charge rather than restoring water equality?

Sugarcane output is expected to drop below consumption in the coming year. This will get the attention of the sleeping middle class. New plantation is down by nearly 50% in both Maharashtra and Karnataka. Wineries have survived the drought with water brought in by tankers for irrigation in some cases. Alas, beer is not doing so well. Six out of eleven of Maharashtra's breweries being in Marathwada (worst hit) and sourcing water from the Jaikwadi dam (which has only 5% water left), they do not have enough water for production.

The Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University (Bamu), Aurangabad, with a large number of students from the economically backward class has set up a student relief fund, which has so far received contributions of around Rs 46,000, said registrar Dhanraj Mane. You can support these students by sending your donations to the fund account number 60123671371, Bank of Maharashtra.

Rich temple trusts are reaching out to help people in this moment of need. The Siddhivinayak Temple is donating Rs 25 crore to the Chief Minister's relief fund. Pune's Dagdu Sheth Halwai Temple Trust is adopting a village in drought hit Sangli, while the Shirdi temple trust has decided to provide 5,000 water drums each of 1,000 litres in the drought hit villages.

Maharashtra Police is donating 15 crore out of salaries. "Constables and Sub-Inspectors will donate their one day salary. Assistant Police Inspectors and above level officers will contribute their two days' salary of the current month towards drought relief," a police officer told PTI.

The political opportunism continues unabashed. RR Patil declared donating a month's salary toward drought relief and suggested the cabinet do the same with Chavan and Ajit Pawar donating two month's salaries, which Chavan called a publicity stunt and shot down, because [pay attention] they were asking the center for a 2500 crore package and could ask for corporate donations. Two days later, Chavan did his media stunt "I appeal workers to wipe tears of drought-affected people ... We will have to reach out to the people by showing them the work we have done as promised in the manifesto.".

Congress minister Patangrao Kadam raised concern over depleting water levels and announced special funds to make water available for citizens living in areas hit by the drought. NCP minister Rajesh Tope demanded that farmers indulged in fruits farming too have been hit by the situation and demanded a special package of Rs 90 crore to bail out these farmers.

Raj Thackeray had harsh words for Sharad Pawar over the irrigation scam and its role in the drought (I think Ajit Pawar should be hanged, if anyone is asking). NCP workers pelted his car with stones. MNS workers purchased and burned a car as protest and got arrested for burning their own car and "pretending to protest" - whatever that means. Presumably that they should have burned public property to get away with protest without arrest. Protests that do not harm others get arrested in India - golden rule MNS forgot.

At a conference in Aurangabad, Sharad Pawar, accompanied by Ajit Pawar, had blithely defended the diversions of water to industries, and rejected the idea of more resilient cropping patterns because sugar was important. He promised all help, but didn't actually announce any saying that the center had already given 778 crore to the state to compensate previous crop losses. Yes, this is the agriculture minister speaking. Instead, he urged Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh to visit and criticised NCP MLA Madhukarrao Pichad for his reluctance to release water from the Nilwande dam.

In Pimpri Chinchwad, be blamed the drought on unplanned use of water. What water? There was no conservation and rain is the only source. Not even water harvesting. Let alone the irrigation.

The Bhujbals, on the other hand are in chance pe dance mode, having cancelled their electricity stealing, private funded Nashik Festival (MSEDCL found power stolen from street lights and demanded payment) in favor of comandeering land moving machinery and passing it off as the contribution of their foundation to making a watershed in the village of their rival. Still, not stealing electricity in times of severe shortage has to get some marks. After all, this is Maharashtra, ruled by a cartel. Plus, who knows, the machinery publicity may actually end with something useful? Also some bonus points for developing rival's village before own? Election gimmick you say? Ok.

In the meanwhile, the irrigation scam seems to have got off scot free. Ajit Pawar is happily rehabilitated. A decade of lost irrigation development, now discovered has led to no attempts to try and compensate at this late date at least. Cheaper, long term development like rainwater harvesting or other low expense initiatives with potential for transformation have been ignored - presumably because low cost offers no profit margins. The budget has no special provision for Maharashtra in spite of its devastating (and man-made) crisis. 1,800 crore for five drought affected states seems vastly inadequate for the kind of recovery necessary. Though how the state even has the audacity to wash hands off its own scam and blame the center for not allocating funds to compensate is a mystery.

We speak of raping, plundering invaders, looting colonists. Maharashtra government has managed the impossible. It has successfully raped, plundered and looted land and water itself.