In Bidaal village of Maan taluka in Satara district, schools recently issued a diktat asking students not to use toilets and bring their own drinking water instead of using the school’s water coolers.
In the 11,081 drought-affected villages across the state, students are facing the brunt of scarcity with many dropping out right at the end of the academic year as families migrate to cities to look for livelihood. Others are struggling through these exams months, with their families scrounging and even selling land to pay for fees and food.
In Bidaal, it is the school teachers who contribute certain litres of water to ensure the mid-day meal is cooked. “Three teachers in the school contribute Rs200, the monthly cost of water for the cooking,” said Hemlata Khade, a teacher from the Zilla Parishad primary school in the village. “Three students in my class have dropped out just before exams. We don’t want them to lose their academic year,” she added.
The families of farm labourers, who work on daily wages, are the worst-hit with no jobs as crops have dried up. Workers at brick kilns and construction sites are also migrating to cities in large numbers.
In Osmanabad in Marathwada, parents are finding it difficult to raise money for fees. According to Baban Ghatkal, a farmer from Ambhi village in Bhoom taluka, his neighbour had to sell his five-acre land to pay the fees of his son who is studying in an engineering college in Pune. “Farmers are further exploited by paying them low price for their land, which can otherwise fetch up to Rs1 lakh an acre, when they are in urgent need of money,” he said.
Rishikesh Patil, 19, a second-year student of the diploma in computer engineering course at Shivaji college in Barshi, Solapur, is one of the 100 students from his taluka to have stopped eating meals in the college mess, as he cannot afford the monthly fees of Rs1,500. “Mother couriers my tiffin with three meals through the state transport bus from our village Ambi in Osmanabad, about 60 km away,” he said.
He said many of his classmates are in distress over this year’s college fee, which is about Rs3,200. “We are not allowed to appear for the exam if the fee is not paid before the exams start. Parents are being forced to sell off jewellery or land,” he added.