Summer’s just beginning but temperatures are already crossing 40 degrees Celsius in Beed, Latur and Osmanabad, the three districts worst-hit by the drought that is ravaging Marathwada. For the 65 lakh people who live there, it’s a struggle to get even their daily ration of 20 litres of water, hardly a bucketful.
And, with dams and reservoirs running dry, no one knows how long the supply through tankers will last. Suicides by farmers this year numbered 244 in Marathwada by March 19.
“We have just about 4.83 per cent water remaining in our reservoirs and dams,” admits Umakant Dangat, revenue divisional commissioner for Marathwada who operates out of Aurangabad city.
”The drinking water situation is absolutely grim, with no solution in sight,” says Santosh Manurkar, who edits the local Marathi daily Zumjar Neta.
“We have enough food, the scarcity is of drinking water,” Dangat says, adding that the government provides 2 kg of wheat and 3kg rice to families living below the poverty line at Rs5 per kg.
“Rationed food alone is not the solution when one will be compelled to buy water and daily provisions, which require cash,” says Babanrao Wadhmore, Dalit Panthers’ leader from Beed who has been agitating over agrarian issues.
Dangat despairs about how he will handle the situation in April, May and June. “The last time we witnessed a similar situation was in 1972 when a six-day deadline was given to the people of Aurangabad to vacate the city and migrate if it did not rain by July. It rained and people stayed back. This time too we hope the rain gods will show mercy on us and gift us a good monsoon,” he says.
Meanwhile, in Latur, the authorities imposed prohibitory measures to prevent clashes at one of the filling stations on the outskirts of the city after residents, fearful of the future, opposed sharing reservoir water. The economy of Latur, an educational hub and the second largest city in Marathwada after Aurangabad with a population of more than 5 lakh, has been under strain after the authorities asked the coaching centres to shut down for the next two months because of the water shortage. Every year, some 50,000 students, and their parents, flock to the city from all parts of the state for coaching for the Common Entrance Test (CET).