One in four borewells drilled have failed to yield water in the region

In cruel irony, it rained on the day Babu Naik was being cremated. On February 14, the 78-year-old farmer from Perabe village in Puttur taluk had consumed insecticide fearing crop loss after his newly-drilled borewell yielded no water.

Even as our family scrambled to perform the last rites, the loans taken out now weigh on us, said Gopal Naik, the youngest of Babu Naik’s four children, who looks after the farm. As much as Rs. 45,000 was for the borewell and Rs. 1.5 lakh for the 5.5-acre farm of areca nut, cashew and banana plants.

Though the area received two days of rain after Babu Naik’s death, the family still harbours the fear of crop loss. “We get water in buckets from a lake nearby. It won’t last us a month,” said Vasantha Naik, the eldest son.

Theirs is not an isolated case; nearby, Poppa Naik has three borewells, of which only one has water, and very little of it. Jayanth Poojary, a borewell rig agent, said one in four borewells drilled failed in the area. “Ten years ago, you could get water at 270 ft. Now, even at 450 ft, you may not get water,” he said.

Many farmers in the district said there was a shortage of water for agricultural purposes. Ishwar Naik, who has a 1.65-acre farm in Ilantila village of Belthangady taluk, said their 410-ft borewell has water “enough only for drinking and nothing else”. He expected all 150 areca palms in his farm to wither away, but hoped that his coconut plantation may reduce the loss.

Similarly, Victor Kadambale, who has a four-acre paddy field in Kadambale near Moodbidri, is now seeking permission to drill a borewell as the lake that used to supply water to his farm has dried up.

“I have no option but to pay Rs. 1.5 lakh for a borewell,” he said.

Overexploited villages

What is surprising is that Perabe, Ilantila and Kadambale do not fall under the “overexploited” category as deemed by the Groundwater Section of the Department of Mines and Geology. A total of 43 villages were declared (based on a 2009 assessment) “over-exploited” in the first meeting of the Groundwater Authority chaired by the Deputy Commissioner N. Prakash just days before Mr. Naik’s death.

Explaining the adverse effects of borewells here, Dinakar Shetty, Senior Geologist (Groundwater section), said: “The soil here has a granite base and laterite rock. Though there is 4,000 mm of rain annually, much of it flows into rivers and the sea without recharging groundwater completely. Lakes are fewer, and so borewells tend to suck up the water without recharging.”

He said the water table “dropped on a year-by-year basis” and has reached a situation where the average level for obtaining drinking water is more than 450 ft, with some areas recording 700 ft, he said.

Desolate

In Perabe village, though summer has not set in, signs of wilting trees and dried leaves are visible in Mr. Naik’s farm. “We don’t know where to get the water. We cannot afford to risk another borewell. Perhaps, it’d be better to sell portions of the farm, and try to get a job in Puttur,” said a distraught Gopal Naik.

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