For 63 days now, Prabhakar Deshmukh and other farmers from Solapur have been sitting in protest at Azad Maidan demanding drinking water for the region, but they drew little attention. However, following deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar's crude remarks on his protest, the farmer was besieged by journalists on Monday.
The 50 protesting farmers have now decided to fast unto death outside the chief minister's residence in Malabar Hill starting Tuesday.
Deshmukh said that on March 22, CM Prithviraj Chavan had assured him that water would be supplied to the villagers in four to five days, but 15 days have now gone by.
Deshmukh, called 'Bhaiyya' by fellow protesters, and others have been demanding that water be released from 17 dams in Pune district to Ujjani dam.
"There is no drinking water in our district; animals are dying and five people died after they went out in the hot sun in search of water. The land is barren, though the canals from Ujjani dam pass through our farmlands. All we ask is that drinking water be supplied to us from the canals," he said.
Reacting to Pawar's crude remarks on whether Deshmukh expected him to fill the dam by urinating in it, he said: "His remarks have hurt us; he doesn't have the time to come and talk to us. He is not bothered about drought in the state. He should be ashamed of himself; the people of Maharashtra will not forgive him."
As Deshmukh spoke to the media, other protesters shouted slogans: 'Bhale jaan jaye, par pani lekar hi lautenge. [We will lay down our lives but not return till we get water.]"
A fellow protester said: "Water is being diverted all the way to Osmanabad and to liquor factories. The water supply minister provides water tankers to only selected areas. Politicians mint money during droughts."
Meanwhile, the proceedings of the general body meeting in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) were adjourned for 10 minutes and later deferred for Tuesday owing to a ruckus over Pawar's comments.
With inputs from Vaishnavi Vasudevan