Drought-hit farmers allege Sharad Pawar's partymen are stealing their water

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Solapur:  Drought has tightened its grip over Maharashtra.

But ask the people of the drought hit village of Ropala in Solapur district, the epicentre of Maharahstra's drought, and they will tell you it is a crisis created not by nature but political clout.

The villagers live just a few miles from the Ujani dam, one of Maharashtra's biggest, but don't receive a drop if its water.

They claim it's because influential people divert the water, a surprising claim given that Ropala village falls in Madha, the Lok Sabha constituency of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

But the villagers allege the main culprits of water diversion could be Mr Pawar's own partymen.

Just a few kilometres from the village is the Vithalrao Sugar factory run by four-time MLA and local Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) strongman, Babanrao Shinde, where there is little sign of the drought. 

To crush, melt and cool tonnes of sugar, factories like Mr Vithalrao's depend heavily on water from the Ujani dam.

Experts say on an average, sugar factories need about one lakh litres of water a day.

This despite the Maharashtra Chief Minister's diktat that water will only be used for drinking, not crushing sugar.

But Mr Shinde says his factory does get water from the Ujani dam, right through the cane-crushing season. He says if he had stopped, the cane farmers would be deprived of their earnings.

It's the same story at the nearby Adinath Sugar factory, run by NCP legislator Shyamal Bagal, where those on duty tell us that that they too received water from Ujani during the season. 

Even if water is officially denied to them, local activists allege the sugar barons break rules to get water.

Local journalists shared with us images of water being pumped from the Sina river, a tributary of the Ujani dam, by the Indreshwar Sugar factory run by Cooperative Minister Harshvardhan Patil - water that was released only for drinking purposes for the villages nearby.

Mr Patil claims no water is being diverted.

From the same river, on the opposite bank, we were also given video of water being pumped out by another factory run by Mr Shinde's brother.

Little wonder that Mr Pawar's concerns on drought in Maharashtra evoke skepticism amongst his own voters. At Ropala village, they say the Maratha strongman just talks, but does nothing on the ground.

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