Beed: It is around 6.30am and dawn is breaking over a lonely house on the Ahmednagar-Beed road near Dongarkinhi. The only noise that can be heard is of a 10-year-old child and his grandmother’s conversation. A government tanker is being filled up nearby and soon the water would be distributed among villagers.
Saraswati Bhilar, in her 60s, tells News18, “It is God’s mercy on us that even after all the wells dried up in the village, we got water in our newly dug borewell. So, I give water to the government tankers free of cost.”
The village was not getting water for 10-12 days in a row over the last few months. Now that Saraswati has found a source of water, she is more than eager to give it away to anyone who needs it. “If I give water to these many people, imagine how much ‘punya’ (good work) I am doing,” she says.
Saraswati lives in a Bhilarwasti near Dongarkinhi, a small village about 50km away from Beed. The village has been completely dependent on water tankers since a year.
“We had gone to western Maharashtra to work in cane farms for the last four months. Most of the houses were vacant till the last month,” says Saraswati.
Saraswati says that when she came back home this time, she decided to dig a borewell for which she spent around Rs 1 lakh. This included the cost of digging, piping as well as installation of a water pump. They had to dig around 550 feet deep to fetch water from the borewell.
There is no filtering or purification done before distributing the water. “Getting water in this drought itself is enough. We drink whatever we get.” Drinking and daily chores have to be done with the same water, she adds
Her 10-year-old grandson, Abhijeet, has climbed up the tanker and holding the pipe. Beside the well, is her small house made of grass and bamboos with a tin roof.
“This government tanker will distribute the water to hundreds of the houses in and around our village.” She says that almost everybody has started a business of selling water, but she believes making water available to the needy in this hour of crisis is a good deed.
“There’s a certain kind of value attached to this, something that cannot be matched to the money I will make by selling this water,” she says, adding, "My values wouldn't let me sell water."
Saraswati owns a land of about 4-5 acres on both sides of the road, even though she lost a part of it due to road construction and would lose some more in an upcoming railway project. But it does not matter much as she would anyway not be able to grow any crop without water.
There are only 60-70 houses in the area and almost all of them travel to the western part of the state to cut canes. Without water, the villagers are unable to cultivate their lands and forced to migrate in search of employment.
Stating that the Marathwada region’s water crisis is solvable, Saraswati says it is the lack of political will that has kept the issue burning for so long. “This district provides the maximum number of labourers to western Maharashtra for cane cutting. If we get water, we will start farming on our own lands. Then who would go to their farms?” she says.
The villagers mainly travel to Madha and Bhuinj in Satara district to cut canes. Some of the younger family members migrate to Pune and are mainly engaged in labour or skill-based work. However, cane cutting ensures employment for only four months, villagers continue to struggle for the rest of the year.
Local farmers usually rely on low water crops such as bajra, jowar, tur and cotton. But, there remains an issue with the prices they get for these crops. “We hardly get even half the amount of the actual rate. Traders take away all the profits sitting in the bazaar,” Saraswati says.