It is almost lunch time and the scorching heat has forced 52-year-old Arvind Barule to take shelter in a small shed on his farm. He waits to share a meal with his brother Gangadhar.
A gust of wind blows across, from the Dongergaon barrage, providing some respite, but it is accompanied by the heavy dust kicked up by hundreds of trucks plying in the area.
Over 120 tankers visit the barrage every day to lift water to quench the thirst of people in Latur City, some 45 km from the barrage.
“The farmers of the 13 villages [around here] depend on this barrage for water, but we are suffering due to the indiscriminate lifting of water for people [in Latur City] who did not manage their resources well when it was most needed. Now, the water levels are depleting fast and it is unfair to force this situation on us for someone else’s mismanagement,” Mr. Barule rues, as more tankers line up, leading to another bout of dust storm across his field.
Nearly 120 tankers have been working at a hectic pace to lift 1.5 million lakh litres (MLD) everyday from the Dongergaon barrage to meet the needs of Latur city, which has been without water since its major source, the Manjra dam, went bone-dry on February 22.
The water from Dongergaon is being lifted since March 9, despite protests in some of the villages in the area, including Dongergaon, Halki, Shend and Wanzarkheda, among others.
The Latur district administration was forced to invoke Section 144 (unlawful assembly) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) at six barrages and water bodies, from where water is being lifted for Latur. They include the Bhandarwadi barrage in Renapur Taluka, about 25 km north of Latur, and the Lower Terna barrage in Ausa Taluka. A total of 4 lakh million litres are being lifted everyday from the barrages as agitating local farmers complain that the district administration does not understand the needs of the locals. The District Collector needs 25 MLD daily, as per scarcity norm, to meet the needs of the city, which otherwise requires 50 MLD in normal conditions.
“When we protested, the district administration cut off our electricity and water supply with the help of police. The water was lifted without any assessment of needs of the surrounding villagers. There is nothing we could do in the face of the heavy force that was used,” says Ram Gaikwad, farmer and member of the local Nagar Parishad.
The growing discontent against the alleged high-handedness of the district administration over the last few days, and anger against the people of Latur City, are palpable in these areas which have been forced to share their water supply.
The overwhelming feeling is that Latur citizens should have managed their resources better, but they used it for industry and other purposes without stocking water. “We don’t mind sharing our water but it must be kept in mind that if we had used the same water for our crops, the agriculture production would have been much higher in these parts. We could have used this water for other purposes,” says Ram Krishna Alapure, who has been depending on irrigation water from the Bhandarwadi barrage.