Of mighty men and development drought

Print edition : November 05, 2004

THE history of development in Marathwada has been strangely at odds with the number of people from the region gaining the highest positions of power. Three Chief Ministers, two Deputy Chief Ministers, two Union Home Ministers, and one Lok Sabha Speaker have been from this region in central Maharashtra. But for two - Gopinath Munde (Deputy Chief Minister) and Pramod Mahajan - the rest were all Congress leaders and included S.B. Chavan, Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar and Vilasrao Deshmukh (all Chief Ministers), and Sunderrao Solanke (Deputy Chief Minister). Chavan was also Union Home Minister. Present Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil had also served a term as Lok Sabha Speaker.

A local level initiative in water management.-COURTESY: CENTRE FOR SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

With such a line-up in the corridors of power one would imagine Marathawada to be a region of prosperity, but the opposite is true. Marathwada is known for stories of poverty, poor development and often, violent manifestations of social backwardness. It is a region where toil and struggle describe the daily lives of the people. The only real issue here is the desperate lack of water and four years of drought. Stories of enterprising non-governmental organisations and crusading villagers are numerous in Marathwada, their numbers perhaps an indication of just how little support the region has received from successive governments over the decades.

Although the region has a plethora of big incomplete water projects, courtesy the government, it also boasts many small successful ones that are the result of people's initiatives. One such is in the tehsil of Asti Patoda. Tubewells are unofficially banned in Asti Patoda. The tehsil, which has had deficit rainfall for four years, is among the severely drought-affected regions in the State. After a reasonable-but-still-deficit monsoon this year a serious attempt is being made to recharge severely depleted groundwater sources. Hence, the decision not to sink borewells. The venture is too young for its outcome to be known, but villagers are confident that the water table will rise and their wells will be full once again.

While they admit that the phenomenon will be a long time in coming, it does not stop them from exploring water systems from Marathwada's past. Wells were the traditional water sources of the central Deccan region but the hard basalt geomorphology meant that they would dry up frequently or turn brackish. To prevent this, ancient rain harvesting systems concentrated on containing Marathwada's meagre annual rainfall of about 600 mm. Numerous earthern dams or bandharas were built across streams, creating a water supply even after the rains were over. Channels from the stored water led to fields.

The value of water was so great that those that undertook to build bandharas were given rent-free land. The system worked so well and got entrenched to the extent that certain tasks associated with it became hereditary jobs. The man who looked after the pats or channels was called the patkari or channel maintenance man. The main governing principle behind such systems was that water was publicly owned and to be used for the public good - an idea that people's initiatives across the region now are rediscovering.

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