Swachh Bharat Mission: Water shortage drives people in Marathwada to open fields

Maharashtra’s rain-shadow region has had so little rain in the last four years that residents don’t have enough water to flush into toilets

By Rajil Menon
Published: Monday 30 September 2019

Pradip Pramod Bhalerao, a farmer in Awhane village of Maharashtra's Ahmadnagar district, says he got a toilet built under the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2017. Photo: Rajil MenonIndia might declare itself open-defecation free (ODF) on October 2, 2019, but Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, which is reeling from a prolonged drought-like condition, is still far from being swachh.

In one of the region’s worst-hit districts, Beed, the dam that supplies water to people has nearly dried up due to lack of rain, leaving civic officials in a fix. 

But as Down To Earth (DTE) reached Hiversinga village of Shirur taluka, the signboard at the entrance offered some hope. “We are a clean and ODF village and we are committed to keep it that way. Dated 31-12-18,” it read.

But almost every family DTE visited said that they went to the riverside for defecation.

When asked if her family had received incentives for toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Sonali Vinayak Pakhre, a resident, said, “Only those people, whose names were recommended by the gram sevak and sarpanch got toilets.” 

Last year, she gave birth to a baby girl at the Beed government hospital, but the infant could not survive beyond three days.

“Doctors said the child died because of infection and asked us to build toilets. But no one recommends the names of poor people like us for the scheme,” Pakhre said, rocking her one-month-old boy in her arms.

Her neighbour Chatrabhuj Trembak Khade, who occasionally works as a tractor driver, however, does not care about the scheme. “Tankers are our only source of water, which the government supplies once in eight days. Who has water to flush into the toilet?” he asked.

Instead, he offered a radical theory-cum-solution: “Less than one litre of water is sufficient if one defecates in the open. Doesn’t this make more sense?”

Tankers are also the sole source of water for people in neighbouring Raimoha village, which, residents say, has received very scanty rainfall in the past four years.

But water scarcity has in a way reduced the prevalence of open defecation. Almost 70 per cent of the population now migrates to distant places like those in western Maharashtra and Karnataka in search of work.

Village Development Officer BJ Jaybhaye admitted that the water crisis was the cause of open defecation in most villages in the region. “We are helpless,” he said.

Dwarka S Jadhav, sarpanch of Raimoha-Dagadwadi gram panchayat, however, was proud of the village’s achievement. She said almost 70 per cent of the 1,045 households in the village had toilets, which were connected to septic tanks.

But a tour of the village showed that all the septic tanks remained connected to open drains crisscrossing the village.  

In Ahmadnagar district, the situation is more or less the same. In Awhane village, Pradip Pramod Bhalerao, a 42-year-old farmer, said he got a toilet built under SBM in 2017. “It is lower class people who still do not have toilets and defecate in the open,” he said. 

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