The contrast could not have been starker. At Hanuwantiya village of Khandwa district, the Madhya Pradesh government is celebrating Jal Mahotsav and developing the biggest water sports destination of the country in the backwaters of Indira Sagar dam. And barely 35-40 km away, farmers in several villages are facing a famine-like situation and staring at crop failure.
Most of the farmland in the area has turned brown with withering crops though there are small patches of green which belong to a handful of rich farmers who can afford to dig bore-wells for irrigation.
“The green land or the farms where the crop is still surviving belongs to those people who could afford to sell a part of their land, say an acre or two, and get a tube well connection to irrigate the rest of the fields,” said Bakht Singh, a farmer from Segwal village.
It is not easy to tap groundwater in the area. Thanks to the drought-like situation, one has to drill at least 1000 feet to get water and this costs between Rs1 and 1.5 lakh — something most farmers cannot afford. Bore wells which are around 600 feet deep have gone dry.
“Wheat requires a minimum of five irrigation cycles over a period of 120 days. This year owing to rise in temperature more water was required but we could not get it as the groundwater level had sunk lower. Most farmers could not even get two cycles of irrigation,” Singh said.
Five km away, the story is similar at Ganjabargaon village. Pointing at dry lands where wheat crop has failed, Jhannalal Dakshe said, “More than 90% of crop has either reported zero grain formation or an abnormal vegetative growth.”
Ravi Singh, another farmer from the village, said, “My land which gets me around 90 quintals of wheat every year will not yield even four kilos. I am getting nothing in compensation and the worst part is the government does not even acknowledge that.”
Onion crop has also failed in the area. “Due to unusual climatic conditions the entire crop is infected with pests affecting growth of onions. The small onions lying in the field are of no use. Whatever compensation the government has given us is less than even half of our investment,” said Subhash Patel, district head of the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh which fights for farmers’ rights in the area.
“There is so much water at Indira Sagar which can easily be brought to the villages, but the government is least interested in doing so.”
Patel is not impressed by job promises to local farmers when Hanuwantiya develops as a water sports destination. “What jobs can we do? Are you going to make waiters out of farmers?” he asks.
The area also reels under drinking water crisis. In Segwal village, spread over 2500-3000 hectares with 3000 people, there are only two hand pumps. “The village had seven hand pumps but five of them dried up. We then sanctioned Rs 2 lakh for a bore-well but that could not give us much water,” said MS Bhatore, executive engineer in Khandwa.
Rocky terrains and inability of soil to trap moisture have worsened the situation. “Government wants us to be happy with the compensation but is not keen on a solution to the problem,” said Patel.
Arguing for recharging of groundwater, he said, “This year Khandwa has been declared drought-affected. The situation could have been tackled if small lake-like structures would have been made to store water.”