Forty-year-old Kumar Bhimaba Berad and his family, residents of Bhutashti village in Madha taluka, Solapur, eat just one meal a day. Until three years ago, the family used to eat three meals every day, but successive monsoon failures have left them with burnt crops and a pile of debt.
The Berad family is not an exception: the story is the same in almost every house in Bhutashti. More than half of the 1,500 families have migrated out of the village, which falls in the constituency of the Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
Pawar, who heads the Centre’s empowered group of ministers on drought, has so far not been able to improve matters in his constituency, which falls in the rain shadow region and perennially faces a water scarcity problem.
With all 100 wells – two public and 98 private – in Bhutashti drying up, this year’s drought has made life impossible for villagers, who now rely on the water tanker that comes thrice a week. It means they have to scrounge for even drinking water, never mind bathing.
Until three years ago, residents of Bhutashti, which is 20 km off the Pune-Solapur highway, were prosperous. They grew cash crops such as grapes and pomegranates and every house had televisions, two-wheelers and cell phones.
“Now, four of six grocery shops are closed. Most people are showing some signs of illness. We have lost hope,” said village sarpanch Rajabhau Yadav.
Villagers say there’s uncertainty about them getting jobs under the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and, to make matters worse, the Sant Kurmadas Sugar Factory, located a few kilometres away, has closed down.
Those who have not migrated are selling their cattle, two-wheelers and gold/silver ornaments to make ends meet. Today, the total loan burden of farmers here stands at Rs 13 crore, which they are unable to pay.
Ramchndra Khandekar, director of the village-level credit society, said the village has been blacklisted. “We have no option but to go private moneylenders,” he said.
Work on the Seena-Madha canal, which could bring irrigation water to the village, has stopped midway for want of funds.
In Madha taluka, there are 50 villages surviving on water tankers. The number is set to touch 75 in April and May.
“We have set up 14 cattle camps in the taluka, where more than 10,000 animals are given shelter. We have acquired 52 private bore wells and proposed 20 EGS works,” said deputy tehsildar Shaikh.