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Updated: October 2, 2009 02:06 IST

Life and death issues not on parties’ radar in Marathwada

Meena Menon
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Poor water management policies add to the problems of farmers in Marathwada . Photo: Paul Noronha
The Hindu Poor water management policies add to the problems of farmers in Marathwada . Photo: Paul Noronha

The road to Ganori village, a turn-off from the highway, has huge piles of rocks on either side, meant for metalling the road. But work has stopped for a month and no one knows why. On either side of the narrow bumpy road, greenfields full of cotton, maize and bajra belie the truth.

A small shop greets you at the entrance to the village. For its 14,000 inhabitants, elections are not an impeding worry, even though they have a candidate, backed by the Shetkari Sanghatana, right from their midst. In a month’s time they will have no drinking water, their lush cotton crops have few bolls and even these are falling off for lack of water. Farmers who usually get 20-21 quintals of cotton will now have to be content with one quintal, grimly prophesies Radhakrishna Gade, panchayat member.

Sheikh Abdul, who owns one acre of land, sees little hope for his cotton crop. “Yes, the fields are green and the crops are tall but the rain was too late. The last bit of heavy rain was like a saline drip to a dying person. It is of no use.” First, the delayed rains meant late sowing. After some straggly growth, the crops revived at the fag end of the monsoon. “Don’t be taken in by all the lushness,” warn the villagers. The cotton bolls are few and the crop is dying for lack of water. Most of the farmers who incurred heavy debts to raise the plant have little hope of repaying them.

“Can we be blamed for coming close to suicide,” asks a senior citizen.

Water shortage

For the first time in eight years, this village, which has a large storage dam and two tanks, is faced with acute scarcity. Water supply is staggered so that people get it on alternate days. Some women close to the main pipeline have fixed pipes in their homes, and the rest have to spend hours waiting for water. Many are preparing to migrate as there is no work. The work under the employment scheme has stopped since the monsoon started.

In the whole of Phulambri taluk under which Ganori falls, in Aurangabad district, the situation is the same. Sugarcane too is badly affected.

Rural credit is a major issue and most of the farmers rely on the moneylender as banks do not extend loans to them. Complaints are aplenty of the classification of people under the BPL (below the poverty line). The gram panchayat has sent the list of BPL back to the government twice but finally it had to accept it, says Gade. “We knew it was a fraudulent list prepared by an NGO which did not verify the facts. Ninety per cent of the people who were poor at Ganori did not figure in the list,” he says.

People said many complaints went right up to the Collector but nothing changed. There are 264 BPL families but the reality is different. So many people from nomadic tribes — they don’t even have a proper house — do not figure in that list. The farmers raised so many issues — right from lack of credit, lack of power, water scarcity, the BPL list, to the horror of crop failure this year.

In the frenzy of the poll contest and the bid to outsmart rivals, somewhere the issues of life and death are left out of the October 13 Assembly elections. The demands and anxieties of the people remain the same over the years in one of Maharashtra’s most backward regions.

The BJP’s Shrikant Joshi, head of the party’s election management committee in Marathwada, says suicides in the last five years have topped the 1,000-mark in the eight districts in the region.

Social activist and journalism teacher Mangal Khivansara says that last year till September-end, Aurangabad district received 600 mm of rainfall, and in 2009 during the same period it was 493 mm. There are plenty of issues but who wants to talk about them, she says.

Water scarcity is acute and will worsen, and there is no work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The government says there is no demand, but his claim in untrue. Now in some places, elections are an excuse for not giving people work. After Diwali, Marathwada will see its annual exodus, people going out in search of work; in many cases they would have taken an advance payment for this. There are increasing atrocities on Scheduled Castes in Marathwada.

With 46 seats, Marathwada is crucial to the fortunes of the two main alliances. While the Congress and its ally claim the situation after the last bit of rain is better, the Opposition BJP and the Shiv Sena are banking on the alliance’s farmer-friendly approach to ensure they stay ahead in the region, where they won 25 seats in 2004 as against the Congress tally of seven and the Nationalist Congress Party’s 11.

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