The unpredictable weather over the past years confuses villagers in Bagalkot district as they face either excessive rainfall or enormous drought during different seasons.
By Vivek Madhu
Climate change, which influences the change in patterns of monsoon and weather events such as droughts and floods, has an impact on water in the rural areas of northern Karnataka. The lack of proper water management has made the people, mostly farmers, struggle over the years.
The monsoon has changed its way of treating this part of the region. The region which used to get little rainfall (683 mm per year) is now affected both by drought and flood due to the change in weather.
In August last year, most parts of the district were submerged in water causing severe damages to roads and bridges. The rivers started overflowing and it was a harvest season to forget for the farmers.
Bagalkot district is sustained by the river Krishna and its tributaries Ghataprabha and Malaprabha, which serve as canal systems in most parts of the district. With the decline in annual rainfall over the years, these canals are the lifelines that provide much-needed water for irrigation and drinking purposes.
Srinivas Alavilli, an urban planner, observed the condition of sudden floods and said that the issue is due to the lack of proper rainwater harvesting systems in North Karnataka. He also blamed the drainage system which is old and in need of reconstruction, to prevent floods in the future.
The Commissioner of Mudhol municipal office, Sunil Patil, said that he receives an average of 10 complaints of pipeline damage every week. “The drainage work was done decades ago and it is almost impossible to reconstruct the whole network. That is why we are dealing with small works that are reported here.”
The Karnataka Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) reported a shortage of water in all 13 dams of the state. Experts say this is one of the reasons why north Karnataka is facing endless drought.
The Department of Rural Development has listed Mudhol taluk under the list of taluks having insufficient groundwater levels. During summer, people in the villages spend a substantial part of their time fetching water on bicycles and motorcycles as authorities have failed to supply water to the rural areas of the taluk.
Agriculture is the main occupation of the people in the district. Approximately 70 per cent of the geographical area is ‘net sown area’ of which the irrigated area is 45 per cent. Jowar, maize, wheat, bajra, sugarcane, sunflower, pulses, and groundnut are the major crops grown by the farmers.
Kumaran, a sugarcane farmer said that his yield was affected twice by the floods. “The entire field was submerged in water. The situation is not at all the same as before. The monsoon is giving a headache to all farmers irrespective of what crops they cultivate.”
Sugarcane farming is a non-seasonal phenomenon with a span lasting over a year. The mills and its workers remain idle during most months of a year if their yields are affected. Since both flood and drought affect the farming of this crop, the farmers have no means of income until the next harvest season. It is also the reason why sugarcane farmers lead the number of farmer suicides in the area.
Bagalkot district Agricultural officer M. Murugan said “Out of the net irrigated area, nearly 60 per cent is through surface water resources and the remaining 40 per cent through groundwater. The Krishna, Malaprabha and Ghataprabha rivers carry out the irrigation needs in parts of Mudhol, Jamkhandi, Bilgi and Badami taluks of the district.
“The five out of six taluks (except Bilgi taluk) falls in the over-exploited category of groundwater. Hence, the judicious use of groundwater and its sustainable management is important. As groundwater levels are declining, deepening of dug wells and converting them into dug-cum-borewells is required,” he added.
Borewells are possible in sites of all topographic conditions, depth and yield prospects. The minimum distance of 150 m between two borewells is necessary to avoid mutual interference.
Taskeem Dange, Chief Agriculture Officer of Mudhol taluk’s Right Sambarka Kendra, said that the change in weather has negatively affected the farmers. “Not just the rainfall, but the salinity in water which is used for production has changed over the past couple of years. The farmers have been advised to take up the sprinkler and drip irrigation systems when there is excess and shortage of water respectively.
“Krishi Bhagya Yogini is a State Government scheme introduced to conserve water. It provides water for irrigation at a subsidized rate to farmers for irrigation purposes.”
“There are several schemes provided by the central government like the micro-irrigation schemes. The micro-irrigation scheme, commonly known as the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana which comes with the objective of enhancing the water use efficiency in the agriculture sector by promoting technological interventions. Drip and sprinkler systems come under this scheme.” added Taskeem.
Apart from the issues in the irrigation sector, there are other problems due to the shortage of water in the taluk including drinking water scarcity, unhygienic conditions in hospitals and public toilets.
The panchayath office of the Taluk provides water to the needy by charging according to the usage of water.
“For residential use, we charge Rs.80 per month. For commercial and industrial usage, the charges are Rs 160 and 240 respectively,” said Taluk panchayath President of Mudhol taluk. “The water we provide is tested weekly making sure that there is no bacterial content in it. There are 35 workers just for the supply and testing of potable water” he added.
The decline in the number of lakes and ponds in the area is also affecting irrigation. The whole of northern Karnataka has less than 20 per cent of the water bodies in the state. Still, the government has done nothing to tackle the increasing water scarcity.