In drought-hit Karnataka, villages struggle for drinking water
Harogere is one of 2,269 villages across Karnataka where water is being provided on a daily basis either through private tankers or by hiring private borewells. With 278 villages requiring such provisioning, Tumakuru district is the worst affected, official data show.
A row of plastic pots near a borewell in the middle of Harogere village of Tumakuru district, two km from the Andhra Pradesh border, tell the story of a drought in Karnataka.
Water supply has been patchy from the four public borewells in Harogere, dependent on electricity supply. Anxious residents wait in the shade of a large tree nearby, hoping to catch every last drop of water from the borewell when the electricity supply comes back on.
“On average we get four pots of water per household a day through some of the existing borewells here,” said Manjunath, a 31-year-old farmer. “We have to approach farmers who still get water from their borewells,” he said.
The government says the model code of conduct for the general elections had prevented launching full scaled relief operations.
Harogere is one of 2,269 villages across the state where water is being provided on a daily basis either through private tankers or by hiring private borewells. With 278 villages requiring such provisioning, Tumakuru district is the worst affected, official data show.
In Karnataka, which has the second highest extent of dry land after Rajasthan, villages like Harogere are left at the deal with the vagaries of the monsoon. Kallambella hobli (cluster of villages), where Harogere is located, received “deficient” rains in the southwest monsoon, recording a 29% shortfall over the long period average. This was compounded by the deficit during the northeast monsoon, which was 46%.
As a result, the lakes in the area dried up and people were left to exploit borewells as the only source of drinking water. With the increase in pressure on groundwater many borewells went dry.
Desperate to provide some immediate succour, the district administration decided to dig more borewells in the village. “Over the past month, four borewells have been dug in the village and only one of these yielded water, albeit a very limited amount,” said Manjunath, who belongs to the Lingayat sect.
As this effort failed, in stepped the “Doctor”, who villagers say provided what the state could not. They were referring to BT Chandrashekhar Gowda, a JD(S) worker and Vokkaliga leader of the village.
A doctor by profession, Gowda left his practice two years ago as his memory was failing him and took to growing pomegranates and areca nut on his three-acre agricultural plot. From his functional borewell he set up two connections, one to his house and one to the Dalit “colony”, through which he provides drinking water to everybody in the village.
“The administration is trying its best but hasn’t been very successful in providing water. Since my borewell is functional I have chipped in to aid the people here,” Dr Gowda said.
However, where such benevolence is not on offer, caste-based hierarchy has ensured that access to water is fraught with the possibility of humiliation on a daily basis. Neighbouring Harogere is Beeranahalli village, which is also located on the border. However, unlike Harogere, Beeranahalli doesn’t have a bus service and other amenities.
This neglect, said 61-year-old Kadirappa, who hails from a Scheduled Caste community, extended to the failure of the administration to even do the bare minimum of digging borewells like it had done in Harogere.
“We will be very grateful if we are allowed to become a part of Andhra Pradesh because we have received nothing from Karnataka,” Kadirappa said. “Every day we have to beg rich farmers who have functional borewells for water, putting up with the insults they hurl at us,” he said.
Across Beeranahalli residents say they have seen the services people in Andhra Pradesh receive. “Everything is delivered to their homes across the border,” said Naganna, a Vokkaliga farmer.
Tumakuru deputy commissioner K Rakesh Kumar concedes there might have been some lapses in the provision of drinking water. He said the problem was being addressed on a war footing, with water being provided through tankers where private borewells could not be hired. However, these measures had limited impact as “day by day the yield in borewells was going down, mainly because these are borewells that have already gone to depth of 900 ft”.
Everything was oriented towards dealing with the immediate crisis. “In the long term we have to look for surface water. Right now, though, we have to concentrate on getting through May and hopefully the monsoon will be kinder this year,” he said.
With the model code of conduct in place for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the state government has been unable to supervise the relief efforts. State rural development minister Krishna Byregowda said the government had spent ₹2500 crore over the past year and another ₹450 crore had been released before May for emergency relief.
“We are unable to review the implementation because the Election Commission did not grant us permission to do so. However, earlier this week the ECI revised its order and has allowed us to review implementation,” Byregowda said. He was referring to the cancellation of a review meeting on April 27, though polling in the state had concluded on April 23.
In the long term, Byregowda said, the state and society would have to consider the impact of climate change. “It is a problem that needs to be tackled by everybody, the central and state governments and the people,” he said.
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