AMITY AND ANGER OVER WATER IN A TIME OF DROUGHT

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature -

In many parts of drought-stricken north Kar­nataka, borewells have be­come the sole bea­cons of hope – and de­spair – as peo­ple des­per­ately look for drink­ing water. All talk is cen­tred on borewells, how in­ad­e­quate they are and the dreary prospects of res­i­dents scour­ing for sources of water be­yond their vil­lages, mak­ing friends and en­e­mies in the process. re­ports

Kal­aburagi (Kar­nataka): Kal­aburagi means land of s t o n e . T h e n a me is trag­i­cally apt for t hi s d i s t r ic t i n nor t h Kar­nataka, where drought has parched the land, wip­ing out crops and dry­ing up water sup­plies. Well be­fore an­other sum­mer dawn breaks at Hon­naki­ranagi vil­lage in the district, four women are pump­ing for water at the only work­ing borewell near their homes. Other women wait their turn in a queue, which stretches al­most end­lessly.

“It takes two hours for one pot to fill. The queue goes on all through the day,” Mallav va Sat hnur, a 5 0 - some­thing res­i­dent of Hon­naki­ranagi, told ET. “Get­ting water is our only fo­cus, though ou r a r ms a nd legs ache,” Ja­gadevi Yad­gir, 65, added. As the drought rages, the ubiq­ui­tous borewell has be­come the cen­tre of their lives now – one of hope and de­spair. And it’s not just in Kal­aburagi, for­merly known as Gul­barga, but also in ad­ja­cent dis­tricts, in­clud­ing those across the state bor­der in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Te­lan­gana. Rain­fall in the re­gion has de­clined over the past few years and ground­wa­ter lev­els have fallen in sev­eral parts, re­sult­ing in an acute water short­age.

Once t he morn­ing rit­ual of f i l li ng water i s over, Mal l av va, Ja­gadevi and the other women of Hon­naki­ranagi join t he men at a pr oj e c t site about 4 km away, wher e t hey a r e d i g - g i ng ditches to pl a nt trees around land that has been ac­quired for a ther­mal power plant. Be­fore, dur­ing and aft er t he 8 -hou r work, which is pro­vided un­der the na­tional ru­ral em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee scheme, all talk is only about how the borewell is in­ad­e­quate and how they will have to trudge 5 to 6 km to other vil­lages, dis­cover borewells there and make friends, as well as en­e­mies, to get water for their homes.

Across vi l l ages i n t he reg ion, t he scene is the same. Peo­ple keep pump-

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Rain­fall in the re­gion has de­clined in the past few years and ground­wa­ter lev­els have fallen in sev­eral parts ing at borewells that are dried up or are dry­ing up in the hope that some­how water will come. All ac­tiv­ity, whether at Vib­huti­halli vil­lage in Yad­gir district or Chal­ta­pur­wadi in Bi­dar district, is cen­tred on the borewell as vil­lagers wait hours to get what­ever water is avail­able. “We have no hope of fresh drink­ing water. We used to use the salty water in the borewells only for wash­ing ves­sels and clothes, but now we drink it. It shrinks our stom­achs and we have to visit the dawai khana (med­i­cal store). There is noth­ing else to drink,” said Prahlad Bi­radar and Sud­hakar Jad­hav at Chal­ta­pur­wadi, in­ter­rupt­ing and com­plet­ing each other’s sen­tences. “Where we used to drink two litres of water, we a re now d ri nki ng one and ra­tioning our­selves daily,” said Moha mmad Ja mal at Fa rh at abad bus stand, just out­side t he bust li ng Kal­aburagi city.

Here, peo­ple from the sur­round­ing vil­lages and houses come to just one pri­vate borewell, where the water is paid for by the state ad­min­is­tra­tion. The borewell is the site of both amity and anger as peo­ple help each other to get water and quite of­ten, fight with each other to get water first.

Borewells that stil l have water are such hotspots that one in Him­mat­na­gar ward of Ka­mal­na­gar vil­lage in Bi­dar district, which bor­ders Ma­ha­rash­tra, is ac­tu­ally locked up and guarded at night to en­sure it is fairly ra­tioned out. “We spl it g ua rd dut y a nd ensu r e no­body breaks the lock in the night a nd pumps up t he water,” res­i­dent Sun­dar­bai Dhanoji Suryavamshi said. “Each house here gets two pots of water. At 8 am, the borewell is locked again,” her neigh­bour Usha Triyam­bak Jad­hav said. In the midst of the heat of sum­mer and the hard­ships, there is one heart­en­ing el­e­ment. Vil­lagers from Ka­mal­na­gar go across the state bor­der to To­gri vil­lage in Latur district of Ma­ha­rash­tra – it­self in the midst of a se­vere drought – where the borewell is f lush. Manik Kulka­rni, an ad­vo­cate who was fer­ry­ing water in the night from this borewell, told ET: “We are aware that the sit­u­a­tion across the bor­der is as bad as ours. When they come to take our water, we are will­ing to share.” In some vil­lages in the Hy­der­abadKar­nataka re­gion, borewell own­ers vol­un­tar­ily and freely share water with their neigh­bours, who fiercely ra­tion it among them­selves. “No, we do not pay for the water. They are our own vil­lagers and they let us take it. We have re­stricted our­selves to a pot each,” said Ma­hadev Poo­jari of Feroz­abad vil­lage in Kal­aburagi taluk. In other vil­lages, where drought has cut across caste and class, it’s not so char­i­ta­ble. Own­ers of farm­land pump up water from their field borewells and sel l it to al l – whether it’s their rich, landown­ing neigh­bours whose borewells have run dry or land­less Dalit labour­ers – there’s water for any­one who can pay. Moin­ud­din Mul­lah, whose en­tire banana and sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tion has b e e n wip e d o u t in the drought, pays for the borewell water at Am­bal­aga vi l lage in Kal­aburagi dist rict, even a fter in­cur­ring a loss of ₹ 2 lakh. “The vil­lagers sym­pa­thise, but they are sell­ing the water to ev­ery­one, not giv­ing it. I am pay­ing for water for both my house­hold and for my cat­tle,” he said.

At the other end of the spec­trum is Dalit land­less labourer Mal­layya Nayikodi of Vib­huti­halli vil­lage. “I can­not spare the money, but the borewell own­ers only sell the water. No amount of plead­ing helps. So I pay,” he said.

Borewells have also in­sti­tuted li fe - st yle ch a nges. Jewa r g i t own r e sidents Mal­lamma, Bhagyashree and Umashree had never be­fore been to the borewell lo­cated in their area of Gand­hi­na­gar. “Now we walk all the way there ev­ery morn­ing at 4 am, stand with women we have never seen be­fore and pa­tiently wait for our turn at the borewell. We have learnt to pump. All water is for drink­ing. We use water like it is ghee to wash our ves­sels and have just given up on clothes,” Malamma said. Borewells have also in­sti­tuted life­style changes. Many town res­i­dents had never be­fore been to the borewell lo­cated in their area of Gand­hi­na­gar

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