Water tankers only lifeline for Maharashtra’s Beed, but they aren’t enough
For Chhaya Shinde, 33, life in Maharashtra’s drought-hit Beed district has over the last two months revolved around getting enough water to survive. There is no fixed schedule for government tankers that deliver water to the residents, who spend most of their time waiting for them.
“Often, these tankers come late at night,’’ said Shinde. Every time the tankers arrive, there is a scramble for water. Shinde’s family of five has often to make do with four pots of water for their daily needs. It is a fraction of the at least 500 liters of water per week that they need. “To supplement the water we get, we pay around Rs. 20 for every additional bucket of water. There have been no savings for us over the last few months.”
Shinde’s story finds an echo across Beed, which received less than half of its average rainfall of 666.36 mm last year. In June, it got only 8% of its average rainfall while monsoon rains threatened to inundate Mumbai and other regions of western Maharashtra.
The district has been dependent largely on 900 water tankers it receives daily. A tanker has the capacity to carry 12,000 or 18,000 litres and is able to cater to less than 25 families at a time. The rationed water is sourced from nearby districts like Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, and Jalna and is rarely enough for drinking and cleaning.
A dam built on the Wan River that supplied water to Beed completely dried up in May. Its parched bed developed cracks by the June-end when the dam should have been around 30% full. An estimated 120,000 people depended on the dam for their water supply.
Deputy collector (Beed) Ravindra Paralikar said there was no other option for the region other than tankers. “Almost all water resources have run dry, apart from a few isolated exceptions here and there. Since the third week of June, most bore wells began to dry up, and we have very little water left,” he said.
Residents say odd timings of the tankers have added to their problems. “We do not know what time a tanker will come. So, we sit around waiting. Sometimes it comes to our village in the middle of the night. We cannot make any plans, go to markets, or leave our homes, because we do not want to miss the tankers. Sometimes we miss it and then there is no guarantee when it will come again,” said Annasaheb Phasale, 53, a resident of Daulavad village.
Many farmers have taken up odd jobs as daily-wage labourers in nearby Ahmednagar as the drought has left their farmlands dry. Sakharam More, 48, a farmer from Daulavad, said it costs roughly Rs. 20 to travel to Ahmednagar for work. “If you get work on a day you travel, you can earn Rs. 200-300. If you do not, you waste the Rs. 40 you spent on travel.”
Farmers from Beed’s Nandur village primarily grow pomegranate and sweet lime, and both need plenty of water before harvest. The Sindphana river, which supplied water to Nandur, dried up in February. Farmers say the resultant crop failure has led to losses amounting to Rs. 2.5 to 4 lakh per farmer.
Rajabhau Chavan, an indebted farmer from neighbouring Mohai, committed suicide on May 31. He had taken a Rs. 45,000 loan. His widow, Savita, 27, said, he probably did not believe they could pay the loan. “Like last year, this year also it looks like our crops will fail. There is no rain.”
Chavan is survived by two children, Nikhil, 9, and Nikita, 5. Savita, now left to fend for herself and her family, said they have a very small field. “I worked as a daily wage labourer on another farm, and my husband would till our land. We could still barely make ends meet. Now my father-in-law, Babruwan, will take care of our land, but he is old. I will have to work in two shifts to feed my family.”
As many as 96 farmers have committed suicide this year because of multiple failed crops, monsoon failure, and debt, according to data from the Beed district collector’s office.
Farmers say bajra and tur that they grow now are stored and consumed by their families for the remainder of the year.
Ashok Tangade, an activist from Beed, said generally farmer families eat what they produce. “Rarely do they purchase groceries or vegetables. But when farmers see signs of drought, they begin to save the money they have and refrain from spending all together. That is why all grocery, vegetable and fruit shops are also running out of business. There is no money in the market in this region.”
Shivaji Solanki, a 60-year-old farmer from Bodhegaon, sowed cotton on his 4.5-acre farm a week ago hoping that rains will follow. He invested Rs. 40,000 in this crop cycle. With no rainfall, he sold off two buffaloes to raise the money, because any further delay in sowing would mean certain failure.
“The sprouts from the cotton seeds have already begun to wilt,’’ Solanki said. “If it does not rain adequately over the next two weeks, I will have to buy water tankers daily for the crop.” Each of these tankers costs Rs. 1,000 and Solanki does not know where to get the money from.
Officials said the government has constructed 144 canals, 126 small and 16 medium irrigation projects. But the region is mostly dependant on monsoon for irrigation. Water harvesting projects are few and far between.
Beed is one of the eight districts in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, which is facing the second drought in a row. The region experienced drought also in 2014 and 2015.
The Maharashtra government in November last year declared 25 districts across Maharashtra comprising over 20,000 villages drought-hit. As per government figures dated June 8, at least 6,443 tankers were providing 994 villages water. Out of 774,000 hectares, roughly 85% has been hit by drought.
As of June 24, there were a total of 3,539 tankers providing water to 3,341 villages in the Marathwada region. In Beed alone, 982 tankers were providing water to 1,038 villages. Across the state, as many as 7,014 tankers are supplying water to 17,482 villages.