Water Crises And Political Promises: A Tale From Rural Maharashtra

Water Crises And Political Promises: A Tale From Rural Maharashtra

Climate change has exacerbated our plight, hitting our farmers particularly hard

Prabhat SinhaUpdated: Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 10:53 PM IST
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Representative Pic | File/ANI

In the heartland of Maharashtra lies Mann Desh, a region steeped in the proud nomadic traditions of the Dhangar community. For centuries, these shepherds have roamed the Deccan Plateau, their survival dependent on their knowledge of finding water sources among the dry landscape. Yet, despite being the first inhabitants of this land, water has remained elusive for the people of Mann Desh.

As a 35-year-old resident of rural Maharashtra, specifically Mann Desh, I’ve witnessed the relentless struggle for water that defines our daily lives. In an era dominated by technological advancements, from AI to digital payments, the absence of adequate water resources continues to plague our community. Despite numerous movements and initiatives over the past three and a half decades, the water crisis in Mann Desh remains broken. Interestingly as a country we have reached Mars and exploring space, but no technology or innovation has been able to provide basic water supply to our own citizens.

Climate change has exacerbated our plight, hitting our farmers particularly hard. In villages like Mhaswad, where I reside, water supply has dwindled to a mere hour once in a every twelve days. This dire situation spells disaster for drinking water, water for animals and agriculture, leaving farmers grappling with zero harvest and meagre prices for their produce. Despite global discourse on climate crises and initiatives like the UN’s declaration of 2023 as the year of millets, the harsh reality is that millet farmers remain among the poorest in our nation. A farmer named Gaikwad from Karkhel has sold all his cattle, and now surviving with only goats; needless to say that all his farm-field has dried up and there is no water, he receives 2000 litres of water once in a every 12 days. The 60-year-old’s sons have migrated to Mumbai for wage labouring jobs, and he lives along with his wife and grandkids in hope to get water before he dies. The entire family uses the same water which they took bath in for utensils and clothes, and again the same water is provided to the mango tree in front of his house.

Growing up in the village, I’ve witnessed firsthand the daily struggle for water, with women queuing for hours to fill their pots. Now, in 2024, the situation has reached unprecedented levels, with the government providing a mere hour of water supply every twelve days. As I traversed the weekly market, I heard farmers lamenting the difficulty of even digging wells deep enough to find water, but they are unsuccessful.

In a year marked by the Lok Sabha elections, politicians have been quick to capitalise on farmers’ plight, showering promises of water infrastructure development. Yet, despite decades of assurances, little has changed on the ground. Instead, we witness a spectacle of extravagant Bhumipujans, where more money is spent on ceremonial rituals than on the actual implementation of schemes. At one place, Bhumipujan was done three times. Imagine the money which was spent three times on the same Bhumipujan — it could have helped thousands of farmers like Gaikwad.

In the turmoil of a water crisis, the reality of our nation is stark: the average citizen’s struggle to reach the highest strata of authority is similar to scaling Mount Everest. Even the simple prospect of meeting a collector or a high-ranking bureaucrat resembles a Herculean feat, entangled in bureaucracy and red tape. In this complex system reminiscent of colonial bureaucracy, people without connections must navigate a maze of steps just to get a meeting. Ironically, even the lowly peon stationed outside the collector’s office wields more influence than a farmer, determining who gains access to power/meet with the collector and who languishes in the shadows.

In the village of Mhaswad, amidst intense protests and hollow promises, a glimmer of hope emerges in the form of an unlikely hero: Panda, or as the villagers fondly call him, “Panniwala Panda”. A contractual employee of the local government, Panda earns a modest living of 12,000 rupees per month, tirelessly serving his community for the past decade. His mission: to ensure equitable distribution of water among the village’s disparate communities, an endless task compounded by inadequate water pipeline infrastructure and dwindling water reserves.

Panda is the busiest man I have ever met; I would say busier than the US President. Panda’s daily routine resembles a whirlwind, over 150 calls per day from anxious villagers enquiring about water release schedules. He is armed only with a simple black-and-white Nokia phone and an uncanny ability to recognise callers by their voices, since he has no time to store thousands of people’s names. Despite facing the brunt of villagers’ frustrations, Panda remains steadfast in his commitment, sacrificing personal milestones and familial obligations for the greater good.

Panda is considered like family by everyone in Mhaswad, regardless of their background, castes, or religion. Transcending these barriers, Panda has forged deep bonds with every household in Mhaswad. He’s often invited into people’s homes for meals, tea, and to take part in important events like weddings and funerals. He’s so connected with the community that he knows who’s away from the village, who’s getting married, and all the little details of people’s lives. This year, however, has been tough for him. Some people are upset with him because water comes once in twelve days; people also know that Panda has nothing to do with the water policy. Despite facing criticism, Panda remains patient because he understands the challenges. He’s sacrificed a lot for his job, even missing important family events. He once couldn’t attend his cousin’s funeral because he was busy with water supply duties; he literally found out about his cousin’s death when he saw the funeral procession. He even missed his granddaughter’s birth. All Panda hopes for is that water becomes more reliable in the coming year so he can attend his own son’s wedding. Yet, amidst the relentless grind of his duties, Panda harbours a solitary wish: for a future where water flows freely every day, and he can partake in the joys and sorrows of his own family. Until then, he remains the unsung hero of Mhaswad, a beacon of resilience in the face of adversity.

As Maharashtra continues to allocate substantial funds towards water irrigation, the reality remains unchanged for regions like Mann Desh, where water remains a distant dream. Like the mirage bird, we continue to gaze at the sky, hoping for a drop of relief amidst the parched landscape.

In the face of such adversity, the simple plea of our farmers for access to water for their families and livestock rings louder than any political rhetoric. Until that plea is answered, the cycle of migration and hardship will persist, leaving behind a trail of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises.

Prabhat Sinha is the Founder of Mann Deshi Champions (prabhat@manndeshi.org.in)

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