Workers at a majoor adda in Pune.

Nearly 50 kilometres from Pune, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation park of Ranjangaon is often described as a “five-star” industrial area, and with good reason. The MIDC campus – barely five minutes from Ranjangaon’s dusty market area – wears an air of exclusivity with its wide roads, manicured trees and gated industrial complexes. Behind the high walls are large manufacturing units for an array of brands including LG, Fiat, Whirlpool and Bombay Dyeing.

On a weekday afternoon, few sounds betray the presence of hundreds of workers toiling inside the factories. The pavements outside are completely deserted, but for a bright pink sari puncturing their greyness. The woman in the sari is Janabai Hale, a 40-year-old landless labourer from Kumta village in Latur district.

“I’ve been on my feet doing jhaadu for eight hours. I’m just giving my legs some rest,” said Hale, massaging her feet while sitting at the edge of the footpath. “I’m also waiting for my husband – he’s not yet done with his shift even though we have been given a joint job.”

What exactly is a joint job? “Well, they hired us together, as a couple,” Hale explained, referring to the electronic appliances factory that employed them. “I sweep the floor and he cleans toilets, and they pay us Rs 7,000 together. There is no contract or anything – they can kick us out anytime.”

‘We fear they might replace us’

Hale and her husband are among thousands of rural Maharashtrians who have been leaving their drought-struck villages in steady streams for the past six-seven months to seek better opportunities in big cities. For some migrants, these are annual journeys made during the off-season for farming, but this year, severe drought conditions across Marathwada and Vidarbha have drawn distress migrants to cities like Pune and Mumbai in even greater numbers.

The Hales migrated to Pune six months ago hoping for some relief from the drought in Latur. With poor rain for at least three years in a row, there was little work to be found in agriculture, and they were not willing to pull their only son out of his engineering college in Beed district. In order to keep paying his fees of Rs 10,000 a year, the couple made their way to MIDC at Ranjangaon.

“We spent two months asking for work at every factory before we got this job,” said Hale, who couldn’t recall the name of the company that hired her.

At Ranjangaon, the couple found lodging in a makeshift slum room made of metal sheets, a dwelling that costs them Rs 2,000 a month to rent. Food rations cost at least Rs 4,000 a month, so to save money, the Hales walk to the factory for 30 minutes every day.

“We may be from the Dhangar caste, but no one in our family has done toilet-cleaning work before. This has been hard for us,” said Hale, who did manage to send her son Rs 4,000 saved over the past few months. “But we fear that one day they might just replace us. After all, at least 10 new migrants come knocking for work at the factory every day.”

The majoor addas

In Pune, there are more than 15 majoor addas, spaces at major crossroads or nakas where unemployed labourers stand every morning to solicit work. Labour contractors visit these addas, hire workers and take them to different parts of the city to do odd, semi-skilled jobs.

Here, it is evident that the drought has touched more than just the political boundaries of Maharashtra. Jayashree Shindgeri, 23, is a Maharashtrian living in Bijapur in north Karnataka. She has been coming to Pune with her husband for five years. They get only Rs 100 per day as agricultural labourers back home. In Pune, there is the option of construction work.

“I work at least 10 hours a day and earn Rs 300,” she said. “But I get work just once or twice a week. The bosses in the construction field do a lot of dadagiri. Sometimes, instead of money, they show us the stick and we have to run.”

Outside the majoor addas, though, those with some education and luck have had a better time. Satish Gavani, 25, is a Maratha from Palam in Parbhani, where his parents own 10 acres of land. For the past three years, they have not been able to grow cotton, soy or dal because of the drought. Gavani has to repay bank loans of Rs 2 lakh that his family spent on an attempt to grow soy this year.

Gavani now works in a Fiat factory where cars are tested for flaws. He earns Rs 9,000 a month under a seven-month contract. He lives with four other young migrants in a single 100-sq-ft room in the town, where each pays Rs 1,000 as rent. There are at least 15 such buildings in Ranjangaon where distress migrants live on rent. “I eat all my meals in the factory canteen and am able to send about Rs 5,000 home each month,” Gavani said.

“I am lucky that when I arrived two months ago, jobs were still available at the MIDC. Those who are coming in now don’t find jobs easily, and the jobs offered through contractors pay very little.”

No work back home

People are leaving for the cities because there is simply no work in their villages. Maya Bhalegao, 25, has moved back to her parents’ home in Hadolti in Latur district, while her husband is in Pune to find construction work. Bhalegao’s oldest child is seven years old and the youngest ten months. Her parents are now supporting all four of them while her husband tries to find regular work.

“Because the government shut down industries, there is no work here,” she said. “That is why he had to go. And there is no work for women this year in the fields.”

Even the Employment Guarantee Scheme, which was supposed to be pushed in villages after the monsoon’s failure this year, has not touched their lives.

Bhalegao’s father, Purali Kamble, scoffed at the idea of the government helping them.

“[Chief Minister Devendra] Fadnavis came from above by helicopter, inaugurated a statue and went back into the sky,” he said. “But nothing has changed for us. There is no work being done here for canals or roads. All this work happens only on paper so we have to leave.”

The daily wages promised to villagers under the employment guarantee scheme come late and are far less than people might earn by working elsewhere. And there is another problem.

“Two years ago, EGS stopped in our village,” said Asha Mirajgavi, also a resident of Hadolti. Her husband Govind committed suicide in May this year. Now she is left without any means of employment. “They take JCBs and do all this work so what will Kunbis like us do?”

Frequently, those from lower castes who have little or no education wind up in the informal sector. Those who are better educated, often Marathas, try to corner jobs in factories where working conditions are better. But background is no guarantee of finding a job.

Nagraj Godke, 28, went with a group of 10 people looking for a job in Pune in August. He returned to his home in Anantpur, Latur, in eight days once his money ran out. “There is no work at all in Pune,” he said. “Even if the rent is low, where will we get Rs 10,000 for the deposit?”

Godke is now sitting idle at home, waiting for the rain to give him something to do. This is also what Pandurang Khillare is doing in Kaudgaon (Bavi) in Osmanabad. Khillare has had no work in the village for months. Unlike him, most other landless people have left the village permanently. Each year, 30 families migrate. As with Hadolti, employment guarantee schemes are a distant dream in Kaudgaon (Bavi), even though Osmanabad district has the second highest number of labourers currently working on projects in Marathwada after Beed.

“I go to Osmanabad to work sometimes and get Rs 200 or Rs 250 per day,” Khillare said. “If I get work, good. If I don’t, I sit at home. What else can I do?”

There is a flip side to this. Villages normally home to regular migrant communities are now slowly filling up as work dries up elsewhere. Bhamb in Solapur district is one such place. Most of its residents from the migrant Dhangar community are ordinarily not in the village for much of the year. Not any longer.

Sadashiv Madne, for instance, travels frequently to Pune as a painter. He has a bachelor’s degree in English, but could not gather enough money to pay for a B.Ed that would qualify him for teaching. Now in Pune he earns anything from Rs 300 to Rs 400 for a day of work.

“I was in Pune until one month ago,” he said. “But since there was no water here in the village, I came back to take care of my parents. Now I will be able to go back only if the contractor I work with calls me.”

This might not happen any time soon, he believes.

Looking ahead

The future weighs heavy on Shankar Nabde. The 66-year-old Dalit farmer from Shirur Anantpal in Latur had to sell two buffalos worth Rs 35,000 for Rs 20,000 at the height of the water shortage in August this year. He was no longer able to buy fodder for them. He was not even able to plant anything on his two acres of land, not even toor. Now, he is not sure if he will be able to afford to buy cattle again or whether he will have to move.

“The buffalos had grown old already,” he said. “But now I don’t know if I can afford to buy cattle again after this.” He began to cry but forced tears back.

“I used to work on other people’s fields,” he said. “But now there is no work anywhere. I have two daughters and a wife. How will we manage?”

Many houses are locked and barred in this part of Shirur Anantpal as entire families have moved away. Hazira Khanum says that her neighbour packed and left her house two months ago. Nobody knows where they went or whether they will return. Khanum’s own children have gone to Udgir in search of work.

“The gutter is filthy and our children fall sick,” she said. “There is no toilet here. What is there for people here?”

Nabde’s neighbour Hariba Kamble, 72, owns no land at all. Both his children have gone to Pune to search for work. He and his wife remain at home.

“We eat from food coupons [which the government gives for the elderly without family support] and then we just sit,” he said. “What else can we do? Our people go from village to village searching for work. There is nothing to be found.”

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