PARCHED KAR­NATAKA ON THE BRINK

From politi­cians to bu­reau­crats, ev­ery­one is milk­ing the drought. And there is no respite for farm­ers.

India Today - - NATION - By Sowmya Aji

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.

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