Strong winds haunt Mhaswad villagers. These winds, they say, take away their rain no matter how cloudy the skies are.
Farmers at India’s largest cattle camp from Mhaswad, 190 kilometres west of Pune, are busy coping with another drought year: this camp has over 10,000 cattle, a record high, indicating the severity of the drought.
Nana Narbhat, a farmer from neighbouring Dhakni, brought his two cows to the camp on April 24 this year when the chief minister inaugurated the camp. “My cattle are alive only because of this camp,” says Narbhat, “It’s been two months to the monsoon, yet my land is without crop. The cows would not have survived.”
Satara district, in western Maharashtra, has 21 cattle camps this year; the last such camps were in 2003 and 2009 when drought was severe in this sugar belt.
Cattle camps become necessary because fodder becomes as scarce as water in drought-hit areas. This is the second successive dry year in the region.
“With state’s financial support, we are feeding around 10,500 animals every day. For the people who brought their livestock, it has become a home away from home,” said Vijay Sinha of Mandeshi Foundation which organized the camp with government funding.
This camp has cattle from a 25-kilometre radius around Mhaswad. Around 14 tractors-full of sugarcane and eight tonnes of cattle feed are required here every day.
When the camp became operational in April, it had around 11,000 cattle.
There are identical camps in adjoining six worst-hit talukas of western Maharashtra, where over 700 villages are facing acute water and fodder scarcity. The precarious situation created by deficient rainfall last few years has been compounded by the lack of rain this year.
The reservoir at Swatantrapur, a hamlet of 2,000 people bordering Solapur-Sangli districts, is a marker of the severity of this drought. It had never gone dry. It bottomed out this March and has not filled up yet.
“We had faced one of the worst droughts in 1972. But this time, unlike 1972, water has been extremely scarce, ground water has depleted to a new low. The wells have gone dry,” said 72-year-old Ramchandra Kedre of Mann.
Another immediate fall-out of drought is that some children stopped going to school as they spend the day at cattle camps. “Only today, I persuaded parents of ten-year-old to take their child back to school. The family’s animals will be taken care of,” said Rekha Kulkarni, chief executive officer, Mann Deshi Bank.
Satara district collector N Ramaswamy said, “Currently 260 water tankers carry water from the western part of Satara to the drought affected eastern part.”