PARCHED KARNATAKA ON THE BRINK
From politicians to bureaucrats, everyone is milking the drought. And there is no respite for farmers.
In the last summer before the 2013 Assembly elections, drought has officially hit 70 per cent of Karnataka. Politicians and bureaucrats in the state are bustling with activity, and spouting words like water scarcity, migration, employment generation and fodder—which have not been heard of since the 2008 elections.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, on a whistle-stop visit to the state, will inspect a fodder bank in drought-hit Sira taluk on April 28. An all-party delegation from Karnataka is to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 2 to seek Rs 4,500 crore in aid.
Three groups of senior ministers, led by Law Minister S. Suresh Kumar, Rural Development Minister Jagadish Shettar and Water Resources Minister Basavaraj Bommai respectively, toured the affected areas. Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda and his predecessor B.S. Yeddyurappa also went on rival tours, with the latter more critical of the state government than the Congress or Janata Dal (Secular). Leaders of the two opposition parties are also visiting the arid parts.
There are so many meetings held and promises doled out that the people of the state could be forgiven for thinking that elections are already upon them. “They should be ashamed of turning people’s misery into busi- ness and political tamasha,” says farmer leader Kodihalli Chandrashekar. “Legislators and ruling party workers are vying with each other to grab their share of funds for drought relief. The Opposition is trying to derive political advantage from administrative failures,” he says.
In some parts like rain-deficient Tumkur, Kolar and and Chamarajanagar district, people are in distress ( see box). But officials also admit to exaggeration in figures in other regions. “Several MLAS have managed to get their taluks, even the irrigated ones, into the drought list. It happens in the run-up to an election year,” a senior official told INDIA TODAY.
As per official figures, rainfall for the last quarter of 2011 has been the lowest in north interior Karnataka since 1970. “Both kharif and rabi crops for 2011-12 have failed. Kharif crop loss has been estimated at Rs 4,245 crore. We have declared 123 of the 176 taluks as droughtaffected,” Revenue Secretary (Dis- aster Management) K. Amaranarayana told INDIA TODAY.
All surface water sources have dried up in Bangalore Rural, Chikballapur and Kolar districts. Sown crop has withered away in the blazing sun, taking with it the next three years’ livelihood of nearly 10 lakh families in this region.
Men shake their head with bitter resignation when asked about work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. “No government schemes are working. There is no source of income,” says C. Narayanaswamy, 55, at Chikanahalli village in Sidlaghatta taluk of Chikballapur district. Several are worried about repaying loans, while others like Srinivasa Reddy, 49, at Gudavanahalli in Devanahalli taluk, say they have “left it to God”.
The women don’t have time to worry about the future. Be it the aged Narayanamma, 65, at Devanahalli town in Bangalore Rural district or the mother of three, T.M. Manjula, 35, at J. Thimmasandra village in Srinivasapura taluk of Kolar district, they walk miles every day in search of
THE STATE GOVERNMENT SUPPLIES DRINKING WATER THROUGH TANKERS TO 482 VILLAGES BUTTHIS IS SIMPLY NOTENOUGH.
a functional borewell. “I manage to get two pots a day, despite abuse from the borewell owners,” says Rajakka, 60, at Koramangala in Sidlaghatta taluk of Chikballapur district.
Barely five out of every 100 borewells are functional in Chintamani, Sidlaghatta and Srinivasapura taluks, where groundwater is available at 1,250 feet, triggering health hazards due to high flouride and arsenic content. “Our women go begging at these pumpsets each night and fight to get some drinking water,” says A. Narayanaswamy, 60, at Alambagiri village in Srinivasapura taluk.
The state government is supplying drinking water through tankers to 482 villages across the state, but this is not enough. “I pay Rs 3 per pot of drinking water from private tankers,” says Munitayamma, 55, at Devanahalli town. Naresh, 20, has been supplying water through bullock cart tankers for the past five years in Chintamani town. “This year, the demand has been much more,” he says. Naresh buys water for his
PEOPLE SAYTHE ONLY MEASURES NEEDED ARE MINOR IRRIGATION AND RAIN-HARVESTING PROJECTS LIKE WHATANNAHAZARE DID IN RALEGAN SIDDHI.
tanker, which can fill 30 pots, from a borewell near local MLA C. Sudhakar’s house. “I pay the borewell owners Rs 40 for a full tank and I sell it for Rs 3 a pot,” he says.
The drought has meant business for others too. “All contractors and ruling party workers make money. If 100 tankers supply water, the bill is made for 1,000. If 100 kg fodder is given to farmers, it is shown as 1,000 kg,” says Kurubur Shantakumar, another farmer leader.
Politicians and bureaucrats insist they are doing all that is possible to help the people. Ministers Suresh Kumar and Shettar point to successful multi-village water supply schemes, fodder banks, goshalas and new plans to provide additional rural employment through a proposed state-funded scheme in drought-hit areas ( see box).
People say the only measures needed are minor irrigation and rain-harvesting projects like what social activist Anna Hazare did in Maharashtra. “The government should make rainwater harvesting mandatory,” says Balappa, 68, of Chintamani town. Lawyer Nagendrappa, 60, also says it is possible to transform taluks like Pavagada through this.
The Centre has, so far, cleared Rs 186.68 crore in aid and released Rs 70.23 crore. The state government has also released Rs 369.69 crore for immediate relief.