The farmer and his cattle have been inseparable companions across the centuries and when he decides to sever the bond by selling off his bovines at the local cattle market, the pain no doubt, is unbearable. But when the skies fail to open up and the farmer has loan sharks breathing down his neck, there is hardly anything else he can do, Cattle are costly to maintain and with no land to till and no crop to reap, the sale is happening with increasing frequency in parched North Karnataka. Cattle markets are getting more and more crowded as villagers look beyond agriculture to measly jobs in the state or elsewhere to keep the pot boiling. Vittal Shastri analyses the tragedy slowly unfolding in North Karnataka and the pathos in the agrarian sector because of yet another drought which no far-sighted CM has ever been able to address.
Thirty-year old Manju Kavali of Kavalageri village has spent the day under the scorching sun in the Dharwad cattle market desperately trying to sell his two bulls. He has been struggling to mobilize money to pay the interest on the farm loan taken from ICICI Bank due to the harassment from officials. But, he could not get a good buyer as a throwaway price was offered for the bulls with the market flooded with cattle and fodder becoming acutely scarce in the region.
Manju has been struggling to make both ends meet and look after his three little children and wife. He poured out his tale of woes about how he has been spending the entire money he gets from the sale of his farm produce for the payment of interest on the loans taken from nationalized banks.
He has been facing a tough enough time to provide fodder and water to his cattle and to add to his woes, bank officials are pressurizing him by making frequent calls to settle the interest on the farm loan though the government claims that it has released the first instalment under the farm loan waiver scheme.
“I have been involved in agriculture by taking five acres of land on an annual rent of Rs 12,000. I also own another five acres of land. I am selling my two bulls to pay the interest on the loan of Rs 4 lakh taken from ICICI Bank as I suffered a loss during the last two years. The bank authorities will send a notice and harass me if I delay in paying the interest”, farmer Manju Kavali said.
Big farmers have had enough and have switched to other occupations after renting or leasing out their land to small farmers who have been bearing the brunt of the drought.
Another farmer, 52-year-old Yallappa Kalennavar of the little hamlet of Shibargatti nearby also had to run from pillar to post in search of fodder to save his two bulls before taking them to the cattle market. The poor farmer could not afford to buy fodder by paying the hefty price as it was in short supply. He is left with no choice, but to sell them at a very low price with the failure of the pre-monsoon showers aggravating the water crisis in the region.
Yallappa struggled hard to provide water to the cattle as more than 10 borewells in the village have become defunct with the underground water table receding considerably. Many people in the hamlet had to move to adjacent villages to fetch drinking water to save their cattle which are suffering in the sweltering heat with the temperature crossing 40 degree Celsius. Several youth in the village have migrated to neighbouring states to seek jobs in the construction sector due to absence of agricultural activity.
The Dharwad cattle market is a sight to behold and is teeming with bulls, cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats with farmers resorting to distress sale of their livestock. The acute shortage of fodder and water has left the drought-prone North Karnataka farmers vulnerable, forcing them to make a beeline for various cattle markets.
“It is impossible for me to provide six pots of drinking water to each bull everyday. I don’t have fodder stocks due to the failure of the monsoon. I cannot buy fodder on a large scale from other regions like big farmers do as I have only four acres of dry farm land. Therefore, I am selling my bulls and will buy new cattle only if there is good rainfall to undertake sowing operations”, farmer Yallappa Kalennavar said.
However, deputy director of the animal husbandry department Dr Parameshwar Naik said that nine fodder banks have been established in various parts of Dharwad district and claimed that there is abundant stock of fodder. “We have 60,000 metric tonnes of fodder in the district. Directions have also been given to officials to conduct a survey within a week about fodder requirements by visiting the doorsteps of farmers”, he added.
It’s not only fodder shortage which is wreaking havoc on the lives of the hapless farmer, drinking water scarcity continues to be a perennial problem in Bagalkote, Haveri and other parts of North Karnataka. People living in the Krishna river basin are bearing the brunt of water shortage as Maharashtra has not yet released 2 tmc water from Koyna dam though an appeal was made by the Karnataka government nearly a month ago.
There is panic all around with farmers in Mudhol taluk fearful that their sugarcane crop may dry up if there is no rainfall in the next few days. “More than 25 per cent sugarcane growers have suffered crop loss due to absence of rainfall. Though water was released from Hidkal dam, it has helped only the constituencies represented by influential politicians like the Jarkiholi brothers in Belagavi district”, said Hanumant Nababi, a farmer of Shirol village in Mudhol taluk.
The only silver lining on the horizon—the implementation of the multi-village drinking water project which has helped quench the thirst of people in rural areas in Gadag district. The drinking water crisis was resolved to a great extent after completion of the Rs 1,049 crore project last year. The water drawn from Tungabhadra river is being supplied to 343 villages in Gadag district. Will the farmer’s lot ever change in a country where politicos remember them only when polls are round the corner and forget them faster than ever? Will water and cattle fodder so crucial for the agricultural economy—ever be on the priority list of any party? Rural Karnataka is in ferment once again and it’s time to act before the fury of the drought-stricken farmer reaches our doorsteps.