Tears dry, drought remains

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.

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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