AMITY AND ANGER OVER WATER IN A TIME OF DROUGHT
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-
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