Bhimrao Agarkar stood on the banks of the Godavari, calculating the cost of the just-concluded rituals for his cousin Vitthal Sakhre, who died 10 days ago. The ghats of the ancient Rakshbuvan (Shani) temple at Georai taluka in Maharashtra’s Beed district are a spiritual destination for many who come to perform funeral rites.
Agarkar paid Rs. 1,600 for a 3,000-litre water tanker that he had to arrange, along with the lunch for 300 relatives and friends near the parched riverbed. The temperature is a painful 42 degrees. Three years ago, Agarkar performed a similar ceremony for his uncle here, but there was enough water in the river.
“We arranged mineral water for relatives, but for bathing and rituals, this time we needed the tanker.” He rues that even in death people do not get access to water.
A deficient monsoon over the last three years has resulted in the holy site going dry, affecting businesses connected with the ceremonies.
“Last year, I was conducting 25 mundans [tonsuring] daily, but it is down to five now,” says saloon owner Ashok Waghmare.
At a distance, a family tries to scour the last remaining drops from 10 taps of the temple trust.
“These ran dry long ago, why don’t you try the tanker supply. I could arrange it,” a priest shouts out. The offer is bluntly turned down. With the holy river drying up, the tanker business has been thriving. The ghats are full of posters offering ‘cheap’ tanker water. But not everyone can afford it.
The temple trust has sought the Chief Minister’s help for a comprehensive plan to revive the river. “Neither nature nor the administration has helped us,” says former temple trust head Abhay Pathak.
Several taluks in Beed are completely dependent on tankers. The administration is providing 803 tankers for 1,169 villages, but the number is expected to go up to 956 by the end of June. The State would be spending Rs. 28.84 crore only on tankers by then.
“This crisis at the temple has been developing after we decided to divert the Godavari water to Georai, to meet the needs of 60,000 people,” says District Collector Vikas Suryawanshi.