In Shahapaur village, Thane district in Maharashtra state, is in the grips of one of the worst droughts in decades. Parched fields, burned crops and wasted cattle have caused a number of suicides by distressed farmers unable to repay their loans. Tens of thousands have left their farms in search of menial jobs, and many joined the ranks of the unemployed poor people in the cities.
Last year 3,228 farmers in Maharashtra committed suicide and in the first 3 months of this year 273 farmers took their lives just in Marathwada district.
Decades of groundwater abuse, flawed water policies and poor monsoons have turned large parts of central India into an arid dust bowl, and millions of people in some 13 states are reeling from severe drought, a situation that is expected to worsen in the coming months.
In fact, a Mumbai court demanded 13 Indian Premier League cricket matches be moved to locations other than Maharashtra because maintaining the cricket grounds would require millions of gallons of water.
One activist said Maharashtra’s water crisis was exacerbated by a recent agricultural shift from growing crops of millet, sorghum, and other cereals to growing water-guzzling sugarcane, a move that he says is being done by politicians who are ignoring the regions dry climate in pursuit of profits from the lucrative sugarcane crop.
Water conservationist Rajendra Singh said this could be the government’s chance to begin work on water security. Meanwhile criticism of PM Modi’s government is mounting and India’s top court recently reprimanded the government for its apathy in dealing with a ‘national calamity’ affecting millions of the poor.
The situation was so dire this week that the Maharashtra government sent a ‘water train’ of tankers carrying 132,000 gallons to the district of Latur. En route the train was stopped by angry villagers wanting a share of the water.
Oddly enough, even as millions go thirsty, real estate companies are advertising high-rise buildings in Mumbai with a swimming pool on every floor.