TRAIN TO LATUR

(OR THE ‘WATER TRAIN’ TO LATUR)

It is not the first time and whenever it happens, it tells the gravity of the problem – here in Marathwada this time, facing the worst ever drought in its written history – and Maharashtra facing the worst ever drought in the last 100 years. And Maharashtra has another farm suicide capital – Vidarbha – to make the matters worse.

Together, Marathwada and Vidarbha share the maximum burden of farmers’ suicides in the country – with Maharashtra being the second most dependent state on agriculture after Uttar Pradesh – but the stark irony is – and has been – Uttar Pradesh, though has its share of farm suicides, comes lower in the list of annual data on farmers’ suicides due to agrarian crisis in the country – while at the same time, Maharashtra’s industrial advancement is far better than Uttar Pradesh’s.

This ‘agriculture dependence and industrial progress’ correlation explains partly why Maharashtra sees far higher number of farm suicides than Uttar Pradesh – it’s basically about the mindset that is shaped by the socio-political milieu – that raises expectation levels – from self, from society, and from polity – and makes facing advertise difficult.

It doesn’t mean Uttar Pradesh is doing any better. It is, in fact, far worse than Maharashtra, because the socio-political milieu here has reduced people to mere numbers who don’t matter at all, even for themselves. They probably don’t face the set of problems that a Maharashtra farmer faces because they cannot afford even those problems.

Marathwada’s drought is in its fourth consecutive year and Latur is the worst hit district. The 600 odd water tankers, including the private ones, around 400, have failed to help around 2.5 million people of this district (Census 2011) with an important (and busy) railway station that is said to be gateway of the cultural region of Marathwada. The state water supply comes here once in a week or ten days.

Conditions here are so worrying that Latur has become synonymous with Maharashtra’s drought as Kalahandi had become with Odisha’s hunger problem. And to compound the problem, Latur is not alone – with severe weather condition prevailing in Beed, Osmanabad, Prabhani and many other districts.

After failing to ensure water supply through water tankers and water rationing (including imposing riot control measures like the Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code – against any ‘unlawful assembly’ to queue up for the scarce water), an age-old problem of India due to poor water management practices and flawed agricultural policies (Maharashtra’s water guzzling sugarcane factories in a drought prone belt), the Maharashtra government has now come up with this idea – of supplying water through trains – the ‘water trains’.

And it is not the first time.

In fact, if we go back, we can find examples as early as 1986 when Gujarat used the ‘water trains’ to fetch water to a crisis hit Rajkot. In recent history, these ‘water trains’ have been a recurring addition to the Indian Railways fleet in Gujarat and Rajasthan. I am certain if we look for more, we will come across many more examples. A point to be mentioned here is that a ‘water train’ concept to bring water to drought hit California from the Pacific was criticised in America due to its high cost structure.

Certainly, it will not be that expensive in India. In fact, Latur has been assigned two ‘water trains’ – each with 50 tank wagons. Each tank wagon has a filling capacity of 54,000 litres. Railways will fill 50,000 litres in each wagon. That means each ‘Latur water train’ will carry 25,00,000 litres to the parched souls and land of Latur.

The first ‘water train’ will reach Latur in few hours (as reported). The second will start its journey on April 15 from the Kota workshop in Rajasthan from where the first one left on April 8. Maharashtra has miserably failed to address its water distribution anomalies in the state. Hope this ‘water train’ has a different fate for people of Latur who need around a million litres water a day.

‘The water trains’, with their continued existence, are yet another testimony on how the state has failed to bring the fundamental changes to uplift people in the world second most populous nation with millions of poor and illiterate who survive on agriculture.

But here, the train to Latur, though a reminder of state’s apathy, inefficiency and failure, carries hope for dried up thoughts. Let’s see the hope prevails.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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