A village takes a gap

Without enough water to irrigate a summer crop, a village in Maharashtra takes a three-month holiday.

ATIKH RASHID

Hivre Bazar,a village with a population of 1,300,is on a three-month holiday. Residents of this village in Parner taluka of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, most of them farmers who otherwise spend this time of the year nurturing summer crops of groundnut or tomato, are organising fairs, arranging cultural programmes, taking sight-seeing tours or just enjoying leisure at home.

The decision to take a three-month break from farming, from March to May, was taken by the villagers in a gram sabha (village meet) unanimously. According to villagers, due to a sparse rainfall last monsoon, there wasn’t enough water to sustain a summer crop and a crop failure was likely. That would have been a wastage of effort,money and water. So instead of planting a summer crop, we unanimously decided that we will rest and also allow our fields to do the same, says Sakharam Tukaram Pawar, a villager.

According to Popatrao Pawar, the deputy sarpanch who played a pivotal role in converting this drought-prone village into a model village, the villagers had gone on a similar break in 2003, again due to less rainfall.

Ahmednagar is among the 12 drought-hit districts in Maharashtra. The drought has resulted in severe shortage of drinking water and has forced many farmers to pull out standing crops as they had no water to irrigate them.

Pawar says, “We have a water audit system in the village which is run by village students. Our experience of the past 20 years shows that if the village receives 400 mm of rainfall in the monsoon season,we get enough water to meet our drinking and crop needs in all the three seasons kharif, rabi and summer. This year,we have had only 190 mm of rainfall,which means just enough water for drinking and kharif and rabi crops. Had we planted a summer crop, we would have exhausted our drinking water.”

Once a drought-prone village,Hivre Bazar now has two percolation tanks with a collective storage capacity of 10,000 million cubic feet. A weak monsoon failed to fully recharge these last year. Apart from percolation tanks, there are 294 wells,16 earthen dams and seven cement storage tanks. The village has won accolades for watershed development work and rural welfare schemes.

Once the water audit done in February showed that the water stored in the dams would just be able to meet drinking needs of villagers and the livestock,the situation was explained to every villager in a gram sabha which unanimously decided against planting the summer crop. “We told them that only 25 per cent families in the village could plant a summer crop with the water from their wells. But they will have to risk a crop failure. In that case,the remaining 75 per cent will have to depend on tanker water for drinking. So these 25 per cent families sacrificed the summer crop for the water needs of fellow villagers”, says Pawar.

Currently, every household in the village gets 500 litres of water through the village water distribution scheme which is run entirely by women. Pawar says the decision to hand over control of water to women was taken because as homemakers,they are the ones who have to deal with the scarcity of water.

Sakharam Patil,another villager,argues that sacrificing his summer crop doesn’t actually mean that he has to forgo the income from his field. There were strong chances that my summer crop would fail or generate very little yield, resulting in losses on the investment. Avoiding these losses is also a kind of profit. Besides, it’s tiring to toil in the field year after year. Now we have holidays and have also allowed our fields to take some rest. A rejuvenated soil will also give us a better yield next season, he says.

Villagers are making the most of their free time by organising fairs and cultural programmes. We are busy holding jagran-gondhal and bhajan-kirtan. Women are using this opportunity to make pickles and poppadums. Some families have gone out. Once it rains,we will resume work in the farms with renewed vigour, says Raosaheb Pawar, a villager.

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