When I first reached Nasik, even during the hot summer, I could feel the pleasant morning breeze. Nasik, I am told, has nicer weather. Temperatures weren't as harsh as the other places I had visited during my time in the drought-hit regions of Maharashtra.
While papers reported Nasik was one of the badly hit districts, it was difficult to find the effects of water scarcity. The Godavari River flowed through the heart of the city. People were jogging and walking along the river banks enjoying the bounty of nature, probably unaware of the havoc lack of water was wreaking just 50 km away from the city. Even my guide told me Nasik had no drought. "The fields are all green as far as I saw," he added.
At a distance of 45 km from Nasik, the last of the water-providing canals passed by. Only then did the green landscape turn brown and barren as we moved away from the city towards the talukas of Sinnar, Yeola and Chandrod. Geographically arid and in the rain-shadow region, these areas have a history of low rainfall. The slow process of desertification was visible. I could only see parched land and cacti growing in the fields beside the road.
As we entered Pangi village of Sinnar taluka, villagers were queuing up to fill water from the tanker that had just arrived. Talking to the women there, I was told they barely carried 4-5 pots of water for the next three days. Unable to comprehend how families can survive on such meager resources, I moved to talk to the men of the village. Sarjarao Paigude, a farmer and his family now survives only on the rations provided by the public distribution system. He had two goats. Since he was unable to feed them properly, the condition of his goats quickly deteriorated. He figured it was better to let the animals die in his home rather than have them slaughtered in the hands of butchers. One goat is dead already while the other is slowly heading towards a tragic end, he tells me.
Sinnar was once known for its thriving poultry industry; today all the farms are abandoned and empty. Rearing chickens requires a lot of water to keep the animals cool, when there isn't any water even for people to bathe daily, how could they provide for the birds? I saw no semblance of farming and fields as I passed through the villages. These people have been living with water scarcity for the past three years.
Further ahead in Mithsagar village, a tired looking Ramesh Chatur, who owns four acres of land and seven animals, tells me the situation is hopeless. He had to sell all seven of his cows to the butchers to provide for his family. With no relief camps in these villages unlike those of Beed and Sholapur districts, people are being forced to let their cattle die – either under their own watch or in the hands of the butchers. I am told more than half of the village has sold their cattle already and many people have migrated to neighboring cities looking for employment.
With no crop yield in the past three years, not even during the monsoon, these villages of Nasik district were the worst hit compared to all the other villages I had visited. Heading back towards the city of Nasik, I saw the looming chimneys of Sinnar Power Plant through the dried up guava plantation with no leaves and no fruits. I wondered, as I escaped to the comfort of running water, is relief in sight for the farmers?
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