|The Demise of Water, Journey to Drought An article on the drought conditions in Bid and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra. (Mangesh M. Deshpande and T. P. Singh)||
For most people this article won’t be a conventional article. I would be misquoted here if say the death of water is actually an essential thing for every human to witness. This article is a travel log of 940km of exploring around the villages of Bid and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra. The fact that I wasn’t prepared to be a witness of something as horrifying as the silent aquiesence and the helplessness about it made me vulnerable and made me think with every passing kilometre I was made aware of how vulnerable life is on this planet. The sight I’m about to elaborate on will be rampant and not very far away in the future.
The aim of this visit was to visit villages in Bid and Ahmednagar districts to check on the water conditions there. The availability of water for human, cattle and agriculture was in dire straits that man couldn’t get a bucket of water for 10 km.
The joke nature played on them is such a way that they were open to humour about it. When asked Vishwambhar, a villager of Nanduri Haveli about the conditions around, he smiled and said “Is there anything to say? It’s all in the open. You can see it yourself”. The wide open fields with nothing but chapped land and dried grass that screamed water every second only to be disappointed with every cry. With an innocent face, Vishwanbhar asked me from where I came. I replied- Pune. And with a surprised gaze he said “Why did you come from so far? There is nothing here. You should go back and have a good life in city”. I couldn’t comprehend what he said at that moment but whatever he said stayed with me for the entire trip. It is indeed difficulty to explain what the villagers were going through by using just words. It is rather easy for the city dwellers to exploit the water and be ignorant to the fact that there is little to no water for people to survive.
I was the attraction of the villages I went in to find myself being watched by every villager. I was never open to such gaze and curiosity. When you come from a closed city environment when no one knows who is around you, just to even acknowledge your presence, it’s hard to survive that hopeful gaze. The kids had only one complaint- their parents took them water hunting every now and then. A girl asked me “What’s the use of these hand pumps and taps (pointing to the one in front of her) if they can’t give water”. I was caught off guard and couldn’t answer here only to find myself asking the same question when I was in the car exploring other wrecked lands.
The atmosphere was maddening. Everything closed. Every door shut. Hotels closed during breakfast and lunch times and shops closed in broad daylight. Is this what you call drought? Roads were so open that you couldn’t tell the difference between a road lane and the dry fields. Only some milestones, some odd dried trees and safety reflectors on black roads could justify a road. Everything was under the blue sky and the scalding sun. Is this what water can do to humanity? I managed to spot a small open shop and dropped by to grab some water bottle and cold beverages. I paid the shopkeeper only to see he returned me the change more than I expected. I asked him to reconfirm the bills to which he said “I won’t get a place even in hell if I take more money from you”. It was evident that the shopkeeper had seen living hell from close quarters and he wants to avoid it at least in the afterlife. It is not a fair thing on nature’s part to rob villagers of water in places where the people were humble and grounded. I guess, the conditions made the villagers humble. The same thing wouldn’t be easy to witness in Pune or any other big city.
As I moved around Ahmednagar, I passed through a village named Dashmigavhan. Some old men were sitting in the premises of a temple and playing cards. When I stopped there to talk with them, one of the enthusiasts asked me if I stopped to play cards with them. I smiled and said “No, cards some other day. I want to ask you about the water condition”. He was swiftly on his feet and said “we have people working in the office. Go and talk to them instead”. He took me to the Gram Panchay office where I met Mr. Shelke, a Gramsevak who looked after the requirements of the village and relayed it to the district offices. He gave a brief over idea about how the government allocates funds and resources to the villages hit by water shortage. He said “In order for a village to be eligible for government tankers there are 9 conditions or prerequisites. These also include acquiring private wells and/or bores in the village and compensating the owners on a daily basis till either there is rain or the wells and bores dry up.” He was kind enough to show me the log books of the tankers along with the yearly water budget the village had submitted to the Ahmednagar Collector office. The brief conversation with him also shed some light on the different schemes government is undertaking so that water can be provided to every household at 20 litres per person per day. Some villages are given special schemes while 42 villages which fall in the vicinity of Rahuri Dam are treated differently as they have adequate water till now. The population of Dashmigavhan is 1044 and the village expects 400mm-420mm rainfall on average which was around 200mm-235mm this year making all the 7 wells and 5 hand wells in the village go dry prematurely. With efforts from sarpanch Babasaheb Kale and Shelke, the village has now 2 government tankers coming every day.
I spent the night at Parali. It was a shock for me to see men fighting for small issues and doing nothing for the water situation. My cab driver invited me to his sister’s place where we had the simplest but filling dinner. I understood one thing there women were affected more by drought. They had to manage all the house hold chores as well as cooking in limited water reserves. They were coping up to survive somehow in this adverse situation. Over the dinner he told me how the sugar factory in the locality offered people more rupees per ton than the usual rate and influenced them to take sugarcane as a crop. It was such a stupid thing to propagate and make fool of the people. In an area where there is below average rainfall, scarcity of water prevailing for years how could some industrialist play the money game and influence people to take crops that are water hungry. The few farms which were a little green had only sugarcane planted in most of them. The rest were dried cotton, jowar and bajra. Some wild grass for cattle spread in areas with wells in the vicinity and little soil moisture available for their growth.
As I was returning from Parali the next morning, I stopped at a village called Babhalgaon where I met two 17 year old boys Rohit and Mangesh. They were filling up cans from a tank and transporting them to their homes. I asked them about the water situation to which they replied they have bore which was operational 24 hours in January which suddenly dropped to 11 hours in February and 1 hour in March. They had filled up a tank with water for themselves and the cattle they owned. They worried about the water crisis going south in so less time and were hopeful that the local government will make necessary arrangements for water tankers.
The route to Majalgaon dam had dry canals in the vicinity. There was ambiguity about the available water in the dam. Some villages quoted 9% while some said around 15% of the total capacity of water was present. There was no official at the dam premise at the time of my visit to confirm the figures. Meanwhile the situation at the Kundalika Dam in Uphali village was a little better. Shaikh Musa Shaikh Afzal, a farmer from the village said that the water crisis has not hit the village yet however he said that the bores are getting dry. On his 2 acres of land which had 3 wells, he had planted some sugarcane and some grass to feed his cattle. He said that when the bore was functional he had filled 2 out of the 3 wells to some extent. He was a little sceptical to comment on the timeline till when the water from Kundalika Dam will be at disposal. He commented that it all depends on how the villagers from other neighbouring villages will use the water. If water is used for drinking purpose with very little for household chores then this summer won’t face dire consequences.
The roads were open and the fields even more. The sight of openness played mind games. The melancholy was in the air. One could try to escape the open and dry stretch of lands only to find themselves in another part of the open and dry land. All you could do is run. Run away from all this and search for some green pastures. All the travel was making me uneasy. These scavengers circling around the sky in search for some prey was surprising. There were birds hovering in the sky, birds sitting on the electricity wire and, birds on the dried trees. I wondered why these birds were still in the dry lands when they can fly to green patches elsewhere. Is it for the same reasons humans find it difficult to leave everything and just go some place where they can survive with some dignity?
But what I was thinking wasn’t the condition. Mira Wani and Priyanka Pawar were brave enough to migrate. Their families had to relocate from their native villages as the water condition was even worst. Mira and her family had come to Alapur from Mantha in search for some work and water. She had left 3 acres of her land in Mantha due to dire water condition and came to work in sugarcane and cotton fields of Alapur. Priyanka on the other hand, a resident of Sathewadi was worried about her baby and the ever scorching heat. She gets water from ‘a place on the other side of the village’ as she had described it with her very little knowledge of orientation. Even in this severity of drought, she showed high degree of resilience towards drought helping her family survive in the harsh conditions. The local governing body wasn’t efficient as per the claims of the villagers. There was one Gram Panchayat for 5 villages of Nandur, Khamgaon, Pargaon, Hingane and Sirasmarg. This made the functioning difficult and not all the problems from every village were solved. I couldn’t meet any official to validate this claim as the Gram Panchayat office was closed. It was thus observed that the local governing bodies were not as proactive in Bid as compared to Ahmednagar. The other reason could be the fact that the locals were not aware of the schemes carried out by the government. It is difficult to exactly pinpoint the reasons for such sluggish behaviour.
At this point I had noticed one thing. Every household I visited and every person I talked to offered me water in the afternoon heat. Not for once they had a thought of conserving the water for themselves. They offered me at least half a glass of water which I happily declined as I was aware of the condition. Thoughts ran in my head and there was one question that made me feel eccentric. Would I share water if I was them? To my dismay, my mind replied- no you won’t share the water. That’s not something you are used to. It takes a big heart to share something that is in scarcity and you’re not there yet. I was simply ashamed and maybe found a place to contemplate.
On my way back to Pune I halted at the villages which were on the border of Ahmednagar and Bid. At Deorai village I met Sandeep Karkhele. He owns 7 acres of land but had not planted anything. The village gets government water tanker but the frequency is not uniform. Sometimes it’s every alternate days and sometimes once every four to five days. But the villagers didn’t complain about it. They said we know this irregularity so we store the water accordingly. At Lohsar, Babasaheb Atthre said that he pays for private tanker and gives water to his crop. He had planted pomegranate, chikoo and sweet lime in this over an acre land. At 800 rupees per tanker he requested 4 tankers till date since January and is unaware of how much more he’ll need. One well is functional in his farm which provides for drinking water to his family and goats. Initially he had applied Jowar and Bajra but those crops didn’t survive the initial days so he had to revert back to some fruit garden.
The fears are fuelled by the reality around us. I couldn’t keep myself away from the fear of not having drinking water around me. I would coin a word for this word in the form of hydraoxidanephobia. One should be open to see the game nature is playing, drive people to cities and kill them all and mock industrialization. It’s hard to keep yourself away from this social and economical problem and be aloof about the happenings affecting humanity. The only way to tackle such a scenario is find alternative evacuation procedure and relocate the villagers where water is in scarcity. The sooner we come up with a social-political solution the better it would be for the poor and vulnerable souls.