Devinder Sharma writes: This year, nearly 82% of Karnataka is reeling under drought. But in Bangalore, you won’t get even a hint of the terrible human suffering that continues to be inflicted year after year. Karnataka has suffered drought for 12 out of the past 18 years. But life in Bangalore has never been affected.
As drought looms large in many parts of the country, more than 50,000 farmers from Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra have moved to nearly 500 makeshift cattle camps that the district administrated has built across eight talukas. “This has been our home since March this year. Problems galore at these cattle camps but we have little choice,” Dagru, a farmer told the media. They cook their meals at the camp and during the day go out looking for job.
At present, there are 1,501 cattle camps across Maharashtra.
As parts of Maharashtra faces its worst drought since 1972, another news report warns of fodder supplies running out for an estimated 10 lakh cattle housed in these camps. While the state government is thinking of setting up more cattle camps, this time for sheep and goats as well, I shudder to think how the farming families are surviving in these cattle camps. And yet I marvel the sensitivity and compassion some well know economic writers have demonstrated by saying there is no visible farm crisis !
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devender Fadnavis has allocated Rs 1,300-crore for these cattle camps. With the prices of cattle feed soaring, the government has raised the daily allowance for cattle contractors to Rs 100 per cattle per day and Rs 50 for each calf. The cattle are milked twice daily, but over the weeks the milk yield is coming down. Obviously, with the fodder supplies getting scarce in a worsening drought situation is beginning to take its toll. Water is supplied regularly by tankers.
Writing in The Wire, journalist Sukanya Shantha brings out the pain and agony that hapless families, including women who carry their children along, are undergoing: “What can we do, anyway? We would also like for our children to continue going to school but there is no one to feed them in the village right now,” Lalitabai Jhimmal was quoted. Her three children, in Classes VII, V and III, have been squatting at the camp along with her, intermittently attending their school. “There is no water in the village. Here, at least, we have water to drink,” says the eldest one.
With the houses locked, many nearby villages have become empty as the villagers have moved along with their cattle to the cattle camps. This is despite the fact Maharashtra had vowed to become drought free by 2019. Instead, with 72 per cent Maharashtra hit by drought, and approximately 43.4 per cent of the country reeling under drought, an estimated 600 million people have been hit hard by an acute water crisis in the country. As crop land become parched, most of the land lying fallow, crops wither and fail, the soaring temperature has made life difficult in the drought-affected villages.
But the biggest tragedy is the appalling disconnect that such a devastating drought has with the city dwellers. People living in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, which has 500 cattle camps in the district, are by and large oblivious of the severity of the drought only a few kilometres outside the city premises. Life goes on as usual, as if everything is normal in the rest of the district. Not only in Ahmednagar, every time I go to Bangalore I have never even remotely felt that people in the city even realise that Karnataka too has been reeling under a severe drought. In 2017, a severe drought prevailed, and as many as 139 of the 176 taluks were declared drought hit. And this year too, nearly 82 per cent of Karnataka is reeling under a drought. But go to Bangalore, you will not even get a hint of a terrible human suffering that continues to be inflicted year after year. Karnataka has suffered drought for 12 out of the past 18 years. But life in Bangalore has never been affected.
Such is the disconnect that life in any mega city does not even give an inkling of a severe drought prevailing just 10 kms away. I find it too strange. After all, have you ever pondered why is it that while drought hits the region as a whole it is only people living in the villages who bear the brunt? Why is that drought rarely, if at all, strikes the cities and towns? For instance, I travel to Bangalore very often, at least four times a year, and never have I returned with a feel of an acute water-stress that the people are faced with.
But how long will the cities continue to be like an oasis in an otherwise dry and parched landscape? That’s a big question. But a recent report by Niti Aayog warns that 21 cities – including the four metropolis Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of ground water by 2020, just a year away. Since ground water provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 100 million people are expected to be hit. I am not sure whether water availability will be down to a trickle in these cities, but for sure the emphasis will shift to farmers advising them not to waste water.
Farmers have always been a soft target. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire blame shifts to farmers. In Punjab, free power and water guzzling crop like paddy have always been the target. They are now being advised to go in for drip irrigation for which the government is being asked to provide 80 per cent subsidy. But a fact no one wants to acknowledge is that the consumption of water in the cities is no less a culprit. At a price of about 4 paise a kg, water supply is almost free for the urban consumers. While the farmers are being asked to go in for drip irrigation to reduce water wastage when was the last time you heard urban consumers being asked to do away with showers in their bathroom?
Every time someone uses the shower for about ten minutes roughly 264 litres of water goes down the drain. A typical bathtub, of the size 30 inches wide and 60 inches long, can contain 300 litres of water. If a luxury hotel has on an average 100 rooms, imagine 30,000 litres of water being drained simply for bathing every day. This is not fair. We can’t force the poor farmers alone to make sacrifices while we allow the rich to bathe in luxury.
People on Chennai’s Outskirts Allege Their Water Is Being Stolen to Feed Malls
Kavitha Muralidharan, The Wire
When tens of lorries began plying the lanes of Kokkumedu on a daily basis, its residents set out to find where the vehicles were headed. “Some youth followed these lorries and found out that they were stopping at malls,” according to Krishnaveni. She was among the women who marched ahead last week to break the bore-wells before they were stopped by the police. Her husband, Saravanan, recently became a taxi driver after he figured farming was no longer a viable option, at least in the near-term. “We have two children going to school. We do not get any money from agriculture these days,” he said.
Indian villages lie empty as drought forces thousands to flee
With over 43% of India reeling under drought, hundreds of villages have been evacuated and homes abandoned after wells, handpumps ran dry in a 45C heatwave. Estimates suggest that in villages 250 miles from Mumbai, up to 90% of the population has fled, leaving the sick and elderly to fend for themselves.
How come Bangalore doesn’t give an inkling of the severe drought in its backyard?
Devinder Sharma, Ground Reality
Devinder Sharma writes: The development process is so designed that cities have been made drought proof over the years… Life in the mega city does not even provide an inkling of a severe drought prevailing everywhere in the state, where as many as 139 of the 176 taluks have been declared drought hit this year.
Drought in South India: A Firstpost special series
This is the introductory article in Firstpost’s nine-part series of ground reports on the ongoing water crisis in south India. The series will cover various aspects of the near-calamitous situation in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, with the onset of blistering heat waves that are putting more pressure on existing water resources.
Four critical voices on India’s perennial drought problem
Many parts of India is in the grip of severe drought, some for the third consecutive year, leading to growing hunger, mass migration, water conflicts and farmer suicides. We present four well-known voices – Yogendra Yadav, Jean Dreze, Sunita Narain and the late Anil Agarwal – on India’s perennial drought problem, its causes and possible solutions.