In the parched region of Marathwada in Maharashtra, which has eight districts, the use of water tankers - usually meant to be the last resort amid water shortage - is on a rise. Locals say they feel the pinch as they claim the tanker suppliers have doubled the tariffs recently while they grapple with water shortage.
This year, a total of 6,443 water tankers, including 6,224 private tankers, have been deployed across the drought-hit state, which is six times more than the last year. For Marathwada alone, 3,359 tankers have been deployed.
The suppliers, with government contracts, distribute water for free. But they are very few in number, according to locals.
Private operators sell water directly to villagers for Rs 1,000 for 5,000 liters. Villagers say that the tariffs have shot up amid water shortage. Earlier, they paid Rs 600 for 5,000 liters of water and now it's almost double.
According to the state government, the contracts for supplying water tankers are given in a transparent manner, but locals claim the same suppliers get the contract again and again.
In Beed, Babunath Lodha, a BJP worker, has the contract for most tankers in the district. He operates around 150 tankers - both government and private. "I got the government tender this year, and I have been supplying water for entire Beed district," he explains.
In Georai, a tehsil near Beed, another BJP worker, Shankar Jadhav, also operates water tankers. "I have been supplying water for the last 3-4 years through tender process. But since I have been in this business, I get the tender," he says.
Mahadev Mane, a private tanker operator, told NDTV, "I get water from my borewell and sell it to villagers... sometimes I have to travel about 4-5 km to get water".
Based on the figures given to NDTV provided by the suppliers and villagers, tanker operators in the region selling 5,000 liters a tanker for Rs 1,000 each would be making around Rs 9 crore a day in total.
While the locals complain about paying for water, a basic necessity, the only ones probably not complaining in the state are the water tanker operators.
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