Hanumant Panchal, a 58-year-old farmer from Dhanegaon village in Latur district, is distressed despite the good rainfall that has come after three years of consecutive droughts in Marathwada. Last fortnight’s downpour has washed away his standing crop of soybean, causing major financial losses. In the middle of the difficult period, Hanumant, lost his young son about 8 months ago.
The last spell of the monsoon has wrecked havoc for Latur farmers. “We were expecting a good crop this year after a satisfactory spell of three months. But the excessive monsoon, just before its retreat, has washed away everything. This season has proved worse than the ones during the drought,” says Hanumant.
The canals supplying water from the Manjara dam, a major source of water for Latur, were completely dried up for past four years. With the last of the dead stock drying up months before the monsoon set in, the villagers could not even dream of any water flow from the canals. But satisfactory rains in August and September changed that to the extent that the dam now overflowed and canals saw uninterrupted water supply owing to charged aquifers.
After the Manjara dam exhausted its dead stock, local administration had to depend on supply from tankers. Latur was the worst affected district of the state and was living on water supplied from Miraj by special trains till the first week of August.
Heavy rainfall in Beed, Latur and Osmanabad later in August resulted in an overflow from the dam, for the first time in nine years. The administration was forced to open its gates and evacuate many families living nearby to safety.
The villagers, earlier helpless observers of a dried up waterbed, now stroll its banks with pride during their leisure time.
Jaldoot, a special train that supplied water to parched Latur from Miraj, made a total of 111 trips for about four months. It supplied 2.79 crore liters of water and brought respite to the citizens of Latur, where most taps had run dry since February 2016.
Till recently, the area alongside the tracks at the Latur station was covered with a network of pipes that connected the water trains to temporary wells dug to stock the water. the train tracks are now used by goods wagons to make routine trips.
Armed with vesseles, school-going children and women in Nagarsonga in Latur would make a beeline for tankers that supplied water. After standing in the queues for hours, compromising on school and daily chores, there was no assurance of the water stock meeting their daily needs. This meant loss of school time for children and a loss of daily wages for women working as farm labourers.
Today, the taps have started running again and villagers can breathe easy.
60-year-old Shakuntala Ghodake of Masurdi village in Ausa Taluka, like hundreds of other fellow villagers, would wait endlessly for the water tanker to arrive. A househoald with more pipes to insert in the tankers would have better chances of getting more water.
Today, she has a completely different routine. From spending hours for a few vessels of water and not being able to earn her daily wages, Shakuntala now works as a field labourer earning about Rs 150 a day. The distress of the drought has been left behind as rains have brought a new lease of life.
During April and May this year, when students in other cities had started preparing for the crucial class 10th exams, Balaji Patil used to make rounds with empty pots on both sides of his bicycle.
Today, the bicycle ferries him to school with a schoolbag on his back. Balaji hopes to do much better in his studies this year.
Nirmala Ghodake, 52, the resident of Masurdi in Ausa Taluka of Latur, is a marginal landholding farmer. Excessive rainfall has washed away her soybean crop, forcing her to work as a farm labourer.
Despite the crop loss, good rains have brought a smile to her face.
Kausalya Garad, a 60-year-old woman from Masurdi, helps her husband run a tea stall at the corner of the village. At the peak of drought, Kausalya would spend the whole today in wait for the water tanker, but still wouldnot have enough to run the tea stall. The couple had to depend entirely on financial support from their two sons working on menial jobs in Mumbai and Pune.
With sufficient water, Kausalya's husband now runs the show at the tea stall while she helps in the family income by working in the fields.
During the good times, Gundappa Birajdar, 72, used to export grapes grown in his 52-acre farm to European countries. He was a respected farmer who would try newer techniques to increase productivity. the former head of the village, Gundappa was an icon for other farmers. But the three droughts had left him distressed as standing vines of grapes dried, leaving no signs of their liveliness.
Having learnt a bitter lesson, Gundappa changed the cropping pattern and grew soybean and tur (pigeon peas). However, heavy rains in the last few weeks has caused damage to most of his crops. His hopes are now pinned only on the Tur crop that have survived the vagaries of nature.
Babhulgaon, the native village of former chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, was no exception to the water woes during the drought this year. Police personnel too formed queues for water at a tank earmarked for them at the police headquarters in the village.
Today, assured supply through household taps has resolved the crisis, leaving the smaller water tank unnecessary and unattended.
Water released from the Majara dam recently resulted in the submerging of a bridge connecting two villages. The district administration had to suspend vehicular traffic here for a few days. From drought to flooding, Marathwadas cycle is complete.
Web Producer: Abhinash Kumar Jha