Amid polls, drought eats away at North Karnataka’s vitals

Disgusted farmers in Mundaragi, Ron and Gadag taluks are now selling their cattle at throwaway prices finding it difficult to get fodder and water.

Update: 2019-05-04 22:34 GMT
People of Yaraguppi village in Kundagol taluk wait for drinking water. (Image DC)

Polls come and go and politicos keep the big bright dream alive with their never ending promises but the droughts never cease in North Karnataka. The story is no different this time with the region in the grip of a severe drought even as  leaders of political parties and their Lok Sabha candidates relax after a gruelling campaign. Some of them have kickstarted the campaign for the Chincholi and Kundgol Assembly by-elections with the drought far from their minds and even the massive protests and road blocks for drinking water not enough to draw their attention to the severity of the natural calamity. Leaders of farmer organizations are seething with anger with the borewells getting deeper and deeper and the mass migration to neighbouring states continuing like ever. VITTAL SHASTRI  traces the agonising story of a region where there are only woes and no magical remedies, where something as basic as water remains elusive as ever

Is drought a curse of God?  People of the little hamlet of Doni Thanda in Mundaragi taluk of Gadag district believe so and have come to terms with the recurring droughts every year. Around 150 families have deserted the village in search of jobs in Maharashtra and Goa assuming that the drought is a divine curse for their misdeed in their previous births!

The remaining 200 families living in the hamlet are running from pillar to post seeking drinking water and fodder. The officials have not done anything to improve their plight declaring that the water in borewells is unfit for consumption as underground water has receded to a depth of 500 feet.

This is not restricted to Doni Thanda;  farmers in adjacent Jantili, Kadampur, Chikkavaddatti, Hattikatti of Dambal hobli are confronting similar problems and have already disappeared to Goa and the coastal districts of Karnataka to work in the construction sector and in paddy fields. Though many taluks in Gadag, Haveri, Bagalkot, Dharwad and other districts of Mumbai-Karnataka region have been declared drought-hit,   relief measures are yet to be undertaken on a big footing.

Disgusted farmers in Mundaragi, Ron and Gadag taluks are now selling their cattle at throwaway prices finding it difficult to get fodder and water. Though the government has implemented a multi-village drinking water project to supply water to nearly 350 villages from Tungabhadra and Malaprabha rivers, many people in rural areas are struggling to get drinking water.

Public initiatives have been launched no doubt like the one in villages in Bagalkot, Gadag, Haveri and Dharwad to de-silt lakes so that they fill up when there are bountiful rains. But the monsoon has not been kind to these villages and arrangements are being made to supply water through tankers in rural areas.

 It has become a challenging task to supply water for the upkeep of  cattle too. “We are unable to recover even the cost of cultivation and all the money spent on seeds, fertilizer and labour is going down the drain with the crops dying up. The government programmes have failed to check migration as officials have not paid wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). The taluk administration has also failed to set up adequate fodder banks in the village despite several appeals,” said Doni villager and former GP member Shankargouda Dyavangoudar.

Gadag Zilla Panchayat chief executive officer Manjunath Chavan however disagreed maintaining that the administration has surplus water and fodder. He claims a call centre has been set up with a group of officials to cater to the needs of  drought-prone areas and that 22 fodder banks have been established. “We have kept enough fodder to meet the requirement for the next 7-8 weeks. There was some delay in disbursement of wages under the MGNREGS scheme two months ago as the Centre did not release funds”, Chavan added.

In Hirekerur and Rattihalli taluks, water is a scarce commodity as the Kumadvati River has totally dried up. Gadag-Betageri is the worst affected with residents getting drinking water once in 15-20 days.  The citizens of Ron, Gajendragad and Naregal towns in Gadag have come on to the streets to protest against official apathy.

However, realising that wildlife deaths may cause a public uproar, construction of water ponds has been initiated by the authorities to protect wild animals and several species of birds in Kappattagudda in Gadag district and in the black buck sanctuary in Haveri.  Some part of the credit should also go to environmentalists who raised a hue and cry after animals started entering villages for drinking water.

 Forest officials claimed that lack of adequate funds and the staff crunch have hampered the construction of more water ponds. “The water table has receded in Kappattagudda hills due to severe drought in Gadag in the last few years. Several incidents of man-animal conflict have been reported due to lack of food and water for the animals. Therefore, the forest department has taken the initiative to build water ponds to save the animals and prevent them from straying into agricultural land”,  explained environmentalist C.S. Arasanal.

But the big question remains: why do millions of people have to go without water in a modern age when a thoughtful combination of technology and vision could have generated a viable solution? Or are recurring droughts useful fodder for politicians of all hues to dole out promises and harvest votes while the real harvest withers in the merciless heat?  It’s time North Karnataka’s politicians came up with convincing solutions so that we do not have another agrarian crisis staring at us in the face. 

People reel as netas relax
They have the country’s third biggest river, the Krishna flowing in the region and the mighty Almatti dam which was to deliver them the good times. But the problems have only worsened for residents of North Karnataka this time as officials and politicians were busy in the election process.

The Ghataprabha river, the main source of drinking water for Bagalkot, Mudhol and several parts of Gadag, has completely dried up. The Malaprabha has also dried up forcing people of Badami taluk and Guledgudd town to depend on fluoride polluted water from borewells. Officials have released 2 tmc water from Hidkal and Malaprabha reservoir into Ghataprabha river but people contend that it can meet  drinking water needs for only 15 days.

The scarcity of drinking water has forced rural people in Gadag, Haveri and Dharwad  to travel several kilometres on bicycles and bikes to fetch water. There are not enough barrages to store water even though three rivers  flow through Bagalkot. Distraught farmers are looking to Maharashtra for urgent release of Krishna river water from Koyna dam to cater to drinking water needs.

Jamkhandi MLA Anand Nyamagoudar and other elected representatives have met Water Resources Minister D.K. Shivakumar and sought early release of water from Koyna dam. “What is surprising is that the drinking water problem crops up every year in North Karnataka but elected representatives are holding talks with the state government on the release of water from Koyna dam at the end of the summer season as they were busy in election campaigns. Politics will also come into play in the release of water from Koyna dam as the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in the neighbouring state. The state BJP has to pressurize their government in Maharashtra to  release water early,” farmer leader Basavaraj Kumbar said.

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