District administration paints rosy picture for visiting Ministers about introducing adequate measures to tackle drought

Madevappa Chikkannavar of Gudi Honnatti village in Haveri is fully aware that the water available for drinking is unpalatable. “Daaktru ee neer kudibyadri andaarri, aadra namaga byare gati illa,” (Doctors have told us not to drink this water, but we don't have any other option) he said.

Others like him, including women and children, sit for hours with their empty plastic pots praying for the power supply to resume so that they can collect water from the only drinking water facility in the village.

In fact, the borewell is not located in Gudi Honnatti but in the adjacent village, Hale Honnatti, from where it is pumped. Though a few farmers in the village have sunk borewells for irrigation, the water is brackish and unfit for drinking.

“Even if we filter the water with a cloth, a creamy layer forms at the top of the container,” said Renuka Sarvand, who had been waiting for two hours to collect water.

With no other alternative at hand, the 3,000-plus residents of Gudi Honnatti are forced to drink the water that is said to have high fluoride content. This has resulted in many of them having kidney stones.

The village has a big tank, which has never filled to the brim since the 1990s and it is dried up now. According to Satish Bhikshawartimath, a law student, lack of quality power supply and frequent shutdowns has worsened the drinking water problem.

Shivanandappa Alavandagi has an acre of irrigated land. But the village hardly receives regular power supply required to run irrigation pumpsets. On top of that is the scarcity of fodder. Rudrappa Ballari and Guddappa Harijan said that despite tall claims by the government on the availability of MNREGA work, nothing has been initiated under the scheme even after declaration of drought.

Gudi Honnatti is just one example of the many severely drought-hit villages in Ranebennur and Byadgi taluk of Haveri district, where all the seven taluks have been declared drought hit.

The situation at Devara Gudda, a pilgrim centre, is marginally better. This village gets water from Madanabavi at Kariyala located 2 km away. But they are at the mercy of Hescom. The only relief is that the Bireswhar temple management in the village has been able to drill a borewell, which helps alleviate the water supply situation.

Scarcity of fodder

Scarcity of fodder drove Giriyappa Mariyappa Kengal and his father to get a truckload of fodder from Davangere by paying Rs. 5,000 for transportation alone. The family had to sell two bullocks at half their price.

“We have two more bullocks left now and have saved fodder for them. If the situation doesn't improve, we will have to sell them too,” said the father.

Job scheme

The district administration and the district-in-charge Minister C.M. Udasi have been saying that there are no takers for MNREGA works, a view confirmed by gram panchayat member Fakirappa Chalavadi.

He told The Hindu that since the people get better wages in surrounding areas, they don't opt for MNREGA. Mr. Chalavadi said that the panchayat was yet to receive any direction from the government on starting drought-relief works, and they were yet to chalk out an action plan.

Interestingly, when some Ministers visited Kakol, Kakol Tanda, Hirekuppi, Hulihalli and Byadgi as part of their tour of drought-affected villages, they were welcomed by people with garlands.

The residents, including a gram panchayat member told The Hindu that they were told that the Ministers would be inspecting development of the village tanks, and were not aware the visit was for drought assessment. The officials, however, denied having kept the people in the dark on the issue. But they were busy preparing reports and trying to create an impression that they had taken adequate steps to mitigate the sufferings of the people.

As per the official report prepared in the first week of April, there was no problem of drinking water in most of the villages. But the very same report mentions that 265 villages in the district were likely to face drinking water scarcity.

The reality, of course, is all the villages are facing the problem and the officials refuse to admit it.

Strangely, while the officials made claims about having done everything for the people during the Ministers' visit, they took an about-turn and admitted not having worked properly on drought relief a few days later when Opposition leader Siddaramaiah visited the villages.

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