The natural reservoir at Swatantrapur, a hamlet of 2,000 people bordering Solapur and Sangli districts in western Maharashtra, has bottomed out since two months, losing the distinction of never drying up, say the villagers.
The six-acre reservoir was the life line of Swatantrapur and several nearby villages. “We have land without crop on it, as everything has been lost in the drought,” said Suresh Jadhav, a farmer who now spends the day at the fodder depot, hoping at least his cattle will survive. The depots, a state-run facility, bring feed from sugar cooperatives for the animals of drought-hit farmers. The administration has started 60 such depots this year in Satara and Sangli.
But western Maharashtra is not the only region facing the worst water-scarcity situation in the state’s history. According to government figures, 6,201 villages in 15 of the state’s 33 districts are facing acute water shortage. Along with Satara, Sangli and Solapur districts in western Maharashtra, Marathwada in central Maharashtra and parts of northern Maharashtra are also among the worst-affected areas.
Besides, even the 700 villages in the water shadow regions of western Maharashtra — comprising the six talukas of Man, Khatau, Sangola, Atpadi, Tasgaon and Jat, where the farmers are adept at making do with meagre rainfall — have been hit hard by the severity of the drought. “We are used to living on scanty rainfall. But this year, monsoon completely turned its back on us,” said Sandip Tale of Dhabewadi village.
Tale’s village is now at the mercy of the state for water and fodder. The villagers, however, complain that the government has been lax, and in some cases, responsible for mismanagement in meeting their needs. Though the district administration has increased the number of water tankers visiting drought-struck villages — from 20 last year to 165 in Man and Khatau talukas, and 218 from none in Sangli — villagers say the service is irregular.
“There is no coordination. Sometimes, we get water every alternate day when we do not have adequate storage capacity, while at others, the tanker comes after 8-10 days,” said Trupti Kadam, a Class 12 student who lives in Gondawale village in Satara, which is close to the area Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi visited on April 28.
Even the villagers of Jashi, whom Gandhi met, say there is no change in the situation after his visit. “We were suffering before Gandhi’s visit and we are still suffering, as the water tankers fail to come on regular basis,” said Navnath Khade of Jashi village.
Satara district collector N Ramaswamy, however, refuted the allegation and said that making water available is not an issue. “There is enough water and fodder available in one part of the district,” he said.
Of the unsatisfied villagers, some have decided to take remedial measures on their own. In May, Sulewadi in Solapur, a village of just 700 people, dug five water wells — the fifth after the initial four failed to show signs of water despite being dug 40 feet down. “We have no option but to try. We hope the fifth well will give us water,” said Ramchandra Lengre.
The administration realised the severity of the drought very late, the villagers allege. Though the problem began in September last year when the returning south-west monsoon failed, it was noticed only in early April when Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar toured the region.
However, instead of resulting in immediate relief, the issue got embroiled in a political blame game.