No water, no jobs: Drought puts Ballari in fix

Ballari has seven taluks — Ballari, Hadagali, Hospet, Hagaribommanahalli, Kudligi, Sandur and Siruguppa — and all of them have been declared drought-hit. (DH File Photo)

It is the third consecutive drought for farmer V Prakash, a high school dropout who has six acres of land. And he is deep in debt.

Of the past five years, three have been dry with little or no rainfall to support Prakash’s agriculture in the Appaianahalli village in Kudligi taluk of this mining district. As a result, Prakash says he has accumulated a debt of nearly Rs 20 lakh, including a private loan he borrowed to purchase a tractor.

Prakash rushed to the Syndicate Bank branch at Gudekote when news spread that a list of farmers eligible under Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s pet crop loan waiver scheme was out. It turned out to be a rumour, but the rush proved that farmers like Prakash are desperate to have their crop loans, albeit up to Rs 2 lakh, written off.  

“I got three borewells drilled and all of them failed,” says the 40-year-old who tried growing togari (a common type of pulse) this Kharif season. In the past, he tried growing tamarind and sugarcane.

Had the rains not failed, Prakash could have earned Rs 4,000 per quintal of togari, and he had sown enough to grow 50 quintals. That would have been Rs 2 lakh.

“Now, I’m involved in the local stone quarrying business. I earn anywhere between Rs 2,000-5,000 by arranging for stones to be exported to other districts... enough to make a living.”

Ballari has seven taluks — Ballari, Hadagali, Hospet, Hagaribommanahalli, Kudligi, Sandur and Siruguppa — and all of them have been declared drought-hit. From June till September, the district received 39% less rainfall. In September alone, Ballari was to receive 128mm rainfall, but got only 48mm. Against this backdrop, the government has decided not to organise the Hampi Utsav this time, but those in power are said to be reconsidering the cancellation of the famed festival.

‘Where are the jobs?’

This drought season, the government is pushing to create jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The number of days for guaranteed employment is up from 100 to 150. “But where are the jobs,” asks Nagaraj Durgappa, 55, whose 9-acre farmland has become barren.

“Youngsters have moved to Mandya to cut sugarcane, while others have gone to Shivamogga, Chikkamagalur and other places to work in plantation estates,” he pointed out.

The Appaianahalli gram panchayat comprises nine villages.

“All these villages put together have 160 wells. Ever since I can remember, never have these wells gone dry. They have now, because groundwater has depleted,” former Appaianahalli gram panchayat president Dinne Mallikarjun says.

This explains why Nagaraj drilled a borewell till 700 feet and still found no water. Earlier, a 200-foot bore was enough to have water gush out.

A few weeks ago, an Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) visited the Kudligi taluk and saw farmer Chandre Gowda’s dried up bajra and groundnut crops.

“Totally, we have requested the Centre Rs 150 crore towards crop losses,” Ballari deputy commissioner Ram Prasath Manohar V said. Of a total farm area of 3.63 lakh hectares, nearly two-thirds (2.35 lakh hectares) is under crop loss. Over 6,000 hectares of horticulture crop loss has occurred due to lack of moisture.

“The only solace this time,” Manohar said, “is that the Tungabhadra dam has sufficient water for urban areas. But there’s a problem for rural areas.”

Authorities are identifying high-yielding private borewells to supply water to Kudligi and other rural areas. “For now, 62 villages are getting water from these private borewells,” he said.

The absence of pure drinking water units is conspicuous and dismal sewerage infrastructure has posed hygiene challenges.

Also, the Appaianahalli gram panchayat has only one live lake left, which has to meet the requirement of livestock across all nine villages.

Locals are now rallying to get authorities to construct a cattle shed nearby to avoid having to ferry the animals long distance.

But the gram panchayat officials are indifferent, farmer Sannakkiappa says, accusing them of working for bribes. “Everything runs on money.”

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