Ready to risk anything for water - Part I

FP

Sitting beside a well in Pimpri village, a metal pot at his feet, 70-year-old Vaman Bidbaug hopes he will meet a passerby willing to climb down the well's 110 steps and fetch him a potful of water. Bidbaug, a farmer, owns about four acres, but hasn't sown for two seasons.

Nearly 1,500 villagers of Pimpri, 18 km from Osmanabad city, climb down the steep steps along the walls every morning and evening to fill two pots. With two consecutively poor monsoons, it is the only well in the village still left with any water. Villagers often trip on the steps and injure themselves, but that is a small price to pay.

"We don't expect good rainfall here, but through my life I have never seen rivers and wells going dry as they are now. We had water in the other wells even when it did not rain in 2002, and earlier," says Bidbaug.

The drought across the state has hit 7,064 villages, with 11 of 35 districts having received less than 75 per cent of normal rainfall.

Bidbaug's two sons gave up on farming years ago and migrated to cities, a trend in the perenially parched Osmanabad, Beed and Jalna regions. In Gandhora of Osmanabad district, Dasu Parshuram Ade, 23, is preparing to move to Pune or Satara, having sold his two bullocks at Rs 30,000 each. He had bought each at Rs 1 lakh in 2009, after a good sugarcane crop.

"I could not have borne to see them die, so I sold them. Now I'm free to go," he says. "I hope to earn enough there so that my family can buy water from tankers here."

Water is disappearing from the rivers, wells and reservoirs of Maharashtra's heartland, 13 districts across Marathwada, parts of Western Maharashtra and Khandesh. Jayakwadi, the largest dam in Maharashtra, has no live storage. Put together, reservoirs in Maharashtra are just 40 per cent full now with levels expected to keep falling.

... contd.

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