In drought-hit Maharashtra, women beg for water on roads

In drought-hit Maharashtra, women beg for water on roads
Jalna:  The women were decked in bright sarees red and green in colour. Their large stainless steel vessels, carefully balanced on their waists, shone in the mid-day sun. Meters away, the brand new tractor that tugged a water tank too wore a happy deep orange.

But in this part of Maharashtra, paralyzed by the worst drought in decades, the tanker with 5000 litres of water headed towards a section of half-dead plants on the road, as the group of women stared helpless.

They rushed then to plead with the man in charge to share some water with them. He turned the pipe away, ensuring they got nothing.  Marathwada is a zone now of despair and wanting.

"What do we do? There is no water. Tankers hardly bring in any water. We are forced to wait and beg for water on the roads," a woman said.  

Nawab Malik of the NCP, which co-governs the state with the Congress, saw NDTV's television report and promised, "We will act on this immediately."

Just a 10 minute drive away, Khedgaon village  has seen no tanker for weeks. The sole well has degenerated into a  tiny puddle compromised by garbage, taunting residents. 

"We know it's dirty. We can see the garbage. But you tell us what to do?" asks Sukhdev Ghodse, an elderly cotton farmer. "No tankers have reached us here. And we are 1500 people in this village."

Government figures say 70% of the crop in the Jalna district has been damaged.  Thousands of hunch-back sweet lime trees are barely able to carry the weight of their own fruit, which has shrivelled to lemon-size.  Farmers are now hacking their trees in the hope of making some money by selling them as firewood.

In villages in the region, many homes are locked, their inhabitants having migrated for work to towns nearby like Aurangabad and Pune.

 "If cotton or sugarcane harvests fail, the farmer can wait for the next season. But when fruit-bearing trees die, it is a loss for an entire generation. Even if we plant the trees now, they won't bear fruit for another 5-6 years," Raju Dongre, a farmer, laments.

"Imagine what will happen during the summer. Water tankers will need police protection. And be rest assured: ministers and politicians will find it hard to step out of their homes," he warns.


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