Firstpost Ground Report: The story of a village in Beed that beat water scarcity by restoring a river

When Vijay Bhatane and his team of district administration functionaries visited Injegaon village in February this year, this obscure hamlet in Maharashtra’s Beed district still bore the wounds caused by extreme weather. Sustained drought, punctuated with furious hailstorms had ruined crops, and revenue forecasts.

Nathrao Karad, adjudged Injegaon’s ‘best farmer’ – the 36-year-old had received the state’s Krishibhushan award in 2012 – was mired in debt and had little by way of income to repay it. Nathrao’s losses amounted to Rs 70 lakh – accrued over five years. He had a loan of Rs 12 lakh to clear, money borrowed to buy a tractor and install drip irrigation. He became listless and depressed. He couldn’t sleep and wouldn’t leave his room. His 40-acre farm lay untended.

“I didn’t know how to repay my loan. I failed to pay the school fees of my children, had to mortgage my wife’s gold. I was demoralised, gripped with deep anxiety and frightened to invest more into farming,” said Nathrao. “The watermelons were about to be harvested when the hailstorm destroyed each one of them [these occurred four times, between February 28 and March 8 last year]. I sowed soybean and cotton three times. Everything dried up.”

“If farmers like Nathrao, who uses modern methods and technology, end up like this, imagine the plight of others,” said Maruti Karad (he isn’t related to Nathrao; Karad is a common surname in the district). The 60-year-old farmer’s kharif (monsoon) crop – soybean and cotton – and rabi (spring) season’s jowar and wheat were destroyed by extreme weather events.

Maharashtra was one of nine Indian states officially declared as drought-hit in 2015. This was emblematic of a recursive pattern in the state, especially Marathwada, a region which encloses Beed and Latur districts, and which has yet to extricate itself from the grip of water scarcity.

Firstpost Ground Report will carry a series of four articles — this is the second — that documents our evaluation of the situation in Latur and Beed and how the project has caused a systemic shift in the manner in which agriculture is practiced in certain parts of these districts.

Rather than construct large water holding facilities, the state government thought it prudent to adopt an accretive approach – launching several micro projects the sum of which, it was hoped, would provide a long-term solution.

In Beed, one of the officers charged with implementing the project, was Bhatane. He began by pushing propaganda. Injegaon has a population of about 2,000 and 800 hectares of land under cultivation. Silt on the bed of the largest water body in the village, a lake, had dramatically reduced storage capacity. Bhatane had to address this and then draw up a checklist for construction work.

During the meetings with the villagers, it was determined that Injegaon needed Rs 15 lakh. The state contributed Rs 10 lakh and villagers amassed the rest. Abhiyan work began in February 2014 and was completed in May. A 3-km-stretch of river Pus was identified to be widened and deepened; of this 700 metres were complete when Firstpost visited Injegaon. The lake was de-silted.

In the July rainfall that followed, the lake filled up, water storage in wells and bore wells increased and there was better supply of drinking water. “Our village is now tanker free [the government does not deploy trucks carting in water]. There are at least eight to ten bore wells that run for almost 20 hours. Last year, these bore wells used to run for 10-15 minutes only,” said Laxmikant Karad, a member of the village panchayat.

Injegaon’s virtuoso farmer, Nathrao, is relieved – he has emerged from seclusion and agreed to be interviewed by Firstpost on camera. “Farmers need to adapt to new methods and techniques and the government has to have a holistic approach towards farming,” he said. “The work that we have undertaken this year should have been carried out much earlier.”

Government functionaries in the district told us they intend to pursue the course they’ve adopted in Injegaon. According to Beed’s district collector, Naval Kishor Ram, thus far, Jalayukt Shivar Abhiyaan has “covered 271 villages and executed 4,000 projects in Beed”. The state had spent Rs 70 crore on these projects and the citizenry Rs 16 crore. “The reason it has worked is because the farmers have worked with us as partners,” he told Firstpost.

This is an ongoing series on Jalayukt Shivar.

Part 1: The nuts and bolts of the scheme
Part 2: Widening the Sonvala river in Latur

Updated Date: Dec 30, 2015 16:52:33 IST