It was only September, yet the tankers that bring drinking water to the village of Kaudgaon (Bavi) in Osmanabad had exhausted five borewells and moved to the sixth to draw their supplies. “Water does not stop in this village,” said Nanasaheb Pande, 36, a former sarpanch who owns a little over an acre of land there. “That is the problem.”

Located amid a vast flatland in the Deccan and ringed by hills, the joint hamlets of Kaudgaon and Bavi have been dependent on water tankers for seven years. From January to the end of August, well after the monsoon ought to have filled its reserves, it keeps calling for tankers.

This year has been particularly bad. Every day, tankers ply up and down from its bores, supplying water to villagers, while around 10 kilometres away, Terna dam remains dry for much of the monsoon. Soon, there won’t be enough bores to keep the tankers full. The farther they have to go for water, the less reliable their drinking water will get. Irrigation is another matter altogether.

“In 2001 and 2002, there was a lot of rain here, even too much rain,” said Pande. “But since 2006, we have not had enough rain. Now with the Jal Yukt Shivar [a Maharashtra government scheme to restore groundwater reserves], it is stopping a little.”

Last-minute solutions

There are long-term answers to the water crisis in Marathwada, but these are confined to the future. In the short run, the only solution is extracting from the remaining groundwater reserves. But as Kaudgaon’s case shows, this is hardly a reliable solution. However, that hasn’t stopped people from digging more borewells, and seeking profits from them.

Siddhaling Swamy of Sarola in Latur dug his first bore in January 2015 after the well that served his 20 acres of land finally ran dry. At the end of March, district officials requisitioned that 500-feet bore and another in the village at the rate of Rs 15,000 each month to provide drinking water locally. Tankers now fill up there for three hours daily and cater to the village’s different hamlets.

“Water has been a problem for us for the last two years.” Swamy says he does not grudge giving the water away. “Even otherwise, I didn’t sell water to people from the village. Now, the government has taken over.”

Many other places in the region rely on philanthropy.

Shirur Anantpal, a village and headquarters of the eponymous block in Latur, became a town only five months ago. Even after rain brought relief to other parts of Marathwada, Shirur Anantpal continued to suffer from water shortages. The town has two canals from which it ordinarily gets water. Both ran dry without any rain this year.

Residents say the government is not helping by providing them with water. Instead, Arvind Bhatambre, a doctor in Mumbai who originally hails from Shirur Anantpal, has been paying Rs 500 per day for tankers to visit different hamlets of Shirur Anantpal every two weeks.

Meanwhile, other services are getting affected. “They shut down the public toilets here for lack of water,” said Trishla Pendharkar, 25. “We have to go to the open road instead.”

Farmers don’t give Dalits water here, leaving them with no option but to survive on tankers, Pendharkar said. The only other source of water is a hand pump two kilometres away, where around 400-500 people gather daily with their pots.

“There is no water and no work here,” she said. “How will we manage for the next eight months?”

Technocracy at large

Osmanabad, where 74 tankers were running daily before the rain finally began in September, took a technological approach to the issue.

“We have put GPS on tankers and reduced our burden of expenses by a third,” said Prashant Narnaware, the district collector. “We could track that out of 3,000 trips, 1,000 did not happen, so we just did not pay our tanker suppliers.”

In neighbouring Solapur, which though not a part of Marathwada division, has also been suffering from deficient rain, collector Tukaram Mundhe envisions making it a tanker-free district.

“Basically, this is a habit of asking for tankers,” Mundhe said. “It needs to be changed because tankers are provided on scarcity funds. We need to strengthen existing schemes. There were no tankers here before 2000. If we conserve here, the matter is finished. We will not need tankers anymore.”

This is the third part in a series on Marathwada’s ongoing water crisis. Read the other stories here.