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Beed in Marathwada bone dry after two years of drought

The average distance for carrying water from the source to villages is 35 km. By the first week of June, it may go up to 45 km. In 2015, Beed got less than 50% of its average rainfall.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Apr 10, 2016, 04.37 AM IST
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“The average distance for carrying water from the source to villages is 35 km. By the first week of June, it may go up to 45 km,” says Naval Kishor Ram, collector of Beed district. In 2015, Beed received less than 50 per cent of its average annual rainfall of 670 mm. The previous year had only been slightly better with 55.6 per cent of the average rainfall. The groundwater level in the district is 3.4 metres below the average water table of the last five years.
“The average distance for carrying water from the source to villages is 35 km. By the first week of June, it may go up to 45 km,” says Naval Kishor Ram, collector of Beed district. In 2015, Beed received less than 50 per cent of its average annual rainfall of 670 mm. The previous year had only been slightly better with 55.6 per cent of the average rainfall. The groundwater level in the district is 3.4 metres below the average water table of the last five years.
If you did not know Dharmaraj Gade well, you would think that he does not have much to worry about in life. Blame it on his smile. It never leaves his face for more than a fleeting moment when he talks to us. But he does have a lot on his mind: his 1.3-hectare farm lies uncultivated; there is not enough water for his family, leave alone the field; and his future is far from certain.

The only silver lining in his life is that he does not have to worry about feeding his four cows and oxen. They are at a fodder camp at Kumshi, 10 km west of Beed town in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. The government gives farmers like him Rs 70 per animal per day for fodder and water at the camp. Gade’s cattle have been in this camp ever since it started over three months ago. These camps are the government’s short-term fix to prevent the farmer from getting rid of his cattle. There are 260 such fodder camps in Beed district, housing 2.8 lakh cattle.

Gade, however, says that what the government gives him for his cattle is not enough. “The money I get is enough for 15 kg of fodder a day, but each of my animals needs 10 kg more.” Gade borrowed Rs 10,000 last year to buy 12 packs of Bt cotton seeds at Rs 930 a pack. But the yield was less than half of the year before, thanks to the lack of water. “I can’t even imagine sowing anything on my farm right now. We don’t have water to feed our cattle, where do we get water for our fields?” asks Gade. Behind the camp is a barren farm, which has been lying untilled for a while, with the soil in clumps. Next to the camp is a well with so little water that you can see the base of the well. There are 755 tankers supplying water for drinking and other domestic purposes to 1,086 villages and hamlets in Beed district every day. Each of these tankers does two trips a day and carries 12,000 litres on each trip.

“The average distance for carrying water from the source to villages is 35 km. By the first week of June, it may go up to 45 km,” says Naval Kishor Ram, collector of Beed district. In 2015, Beed received less than 50 per cent of its average annual rainfall of 670 mm. The previous year had only been slightly better with 55.6 per cent of the average rainfall. The groundwater level in the district is 3.4 metres below the average water table of the last five years.

A year ago, the level was 1.9 metres below the average water table. Beed, along with Osmanabad and Latur, is the most waterstarved in the Marathwada region where the state government has declared “droughtlike” condition. Some ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis government visited these places last month. Among them was rural development minister Pankaja Munde, whose father Gopinath Munde was the biggest leader to emerge from Beed and, along with former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, was one of the most influential Marathwada politicians. Of the two primary water sources for Beed—Manjra and Majalgaon—the former is dry and there is not much water left in the latter. According to a recent Press Trust of India report, there is only 5 per cent water in Marathwada’s dams. The acute scarcity is evident in other parts of Maharashtra, too, which has been cited as a reason in a public interest litigation to shift the Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket matches out of the state. The Bombay High Court has for now allowed the first match in Mumbai on April 9.

Where are the Rains? The worst manifestation of the water crisis, which compounds crop failures, is farmer suicides. About 250 farmers have taken their lives in Marathwada in 2016, around 46 of whom were from Beed district. While figures for the same period last year were not available, 1,130 Marathwada farmers killed themselves in 2015 —which is almost twice the 2014 figure — and Beed accounted for 301.

On March 23, Madhav Kadam, a 27-year-old farmer from Nanded district, also in Marathwada, committed suicide outside the Mantralaya, the state government’s headquarters in Mumbai, after being denied full compensation for the failure of his crop. Fifty-year-old Raghunath Mahakale consumed insecticide on the night of March 6 in his village Loladgaon in Beed. It was not the lack of government compensation, but the loans that he had taken that drove him to his death.

He had taken a loan of Rs 15,000 from a state-owned bank in 2012, and borrowed over Rs 1 lakh from relatives to spend on his three daughters’ weddings, hoping to repay them with the income from his 1.2-hectare farm (1 hectare = 2.47 acres). But the cotton yield on his farm was not up to scratch. His 21-year-old son Sakharam says, due to water scarcity, his family’s annual income was only Rs 60,000 in the last three years, a third of which went to maintaining their livestock. “There has been no water for three-four years. If we had enough water, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are. Our annual income could have been Rs 1.5 lakh.”

Sakharam is now working as a daily wage labourer, making Rs 200-250 a day four times a week. According to a study done by Dilasa Janvikas Pratishthan, a non-governmental organisation working with farmers, 82 per cent of respondents from families of farmers who committed suicide in Marathwada in 2014 pointed to drought as a natural calamity responsible for their woes. “The administration is more worried about water than about banks,” says Sanjeev Unhale, secretary, Dilasa, referring to the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Latur city and Parbhani, to prevent the assembly of more than five persons around water supply spots. While sugarcane is not as prevalent a crop in Marathwada as it is in western Maharashtra, there are about 70 sugar factories, says Unhale.



But many of them were inactive in 2015-16. Of the 10 factories in Beed, only two were operational. Moreover, around 8,00,000 people from Beed migrated to western Maharashtra and other parts of the state and even to neighbouring states to work in sugarcane fields and transport sugarcane to factories. Mahadeo Sanap bought two oxen for `80,000 sometime last year and took them to Solapur, to carry sugarcane from farms to factories. While there is usually work between October and May, this time, Sanap had to return by January as the factories did not have enough sugarcane to process. He has come to the Tuesday fair at Hirapur near Beed to sell the oxen, but he is not too hopeful. “Buyers are saying Rs 40,000-45,000 for the oxen. I won’t sell them for less than Rs 65,000.”

As people hope for a normal monsoon, the Beed district administration is encouraging farmers to inter-crop moong dal (mung beans) and urad dal (black gram) with cotton, and tur dal (pigeon peas) with soybean. This will reduce the risks in farming and increase pulse production. Cotton accounts for nearly half of the net sown area of 7.4 lakh hectares in Beed and soybean a fourth. The yields in both crops fell by up to 80 per cent in 2015. The government is trying to create more avenues for water conservation. Beed collector Ram says the government spent around Rs 80 crore in 2015-16 on water conservation projects in the district, including building compartmental bunds on 25,000 hectares. This fiscal, the government hopes to cover 1 lakh hectares.

The administration is also looking to extend the coverage of micro irrigation, which is more water-efficient than surface irrigation. Now, only 5 per cent of the cultivable area in Marathwada is under micro irrigation. Notwithstanding the efforts by both the government and people, a lot hinges on this year’s monsoon. If the monsoon is not up to par, even the best water-conservation techniques and change in cropping patterns will not be able to make up for three back-to-back years of deficient rains. That may be a disaster that hasn’t struck in a century.
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