Dry Times in Maharashtra
It’s a few weeks ago now that Kim, Morgan and myself journeyed to see the sights near to Aurangabad. I’ve already posted about Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves; now I want to share a few more things we saw, especially about the climate and lives of average folks here in Maharashtra. It is a sad fact that times here for a great many people are very bad indeed.
The first place we came to, still part of Pune proper, was Wagholi, a very fast growing area to the north-west of town. This picture from the web is typical of the many in-progress developments we saw:
Whether it will ever finish or not, there’s no way of knowing; it seems everywhere we go here there are big buildings in perpetual 1/4-finished state.
One reason this area is growing so fast is simply because it is close in, only 13 kms or so from center of Pune, but still fairly empty. Another is because of the increase in manufacturing in this region. There is a lot of heavy industry here, including Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen plants to the north of town. As we continued on the road going north-east we passed facilities of many global companies – P&G, LG, Whirlpool, Haier – as well as many Indian companies making, for example, auto-parts, stone & tiles, and plumbing fixtures. Chatting with Rupesh we asked what type of people were the workers at these plants. He said a great many came from outside Maharashtra, from Uttar Pradesh mostly. Entry-level laborers at these factories will earn around Rs. 9 – 10,000 per month – about $190.
Soon we came to the first of several toll gates we would pass on the way to Aurangabad:
We did not stop to see what difference there might be between accessing the First Aid Box and the Complaint Book.
30 kms or so outward from our flat the road became a 4-lane road – 2-lanes in each direction – of good condition, our speed reached 100 kph many times. It was here for the first time I think we were seeing the “real” Maharashtra. Pune is a big place and fairly modern. Yes, cows, goats, dogs and other animals abound, but any place with a Hard Rock Café has an immense amount in common with a Western city. Away from the city proper we fell into a rhythm of passing 10 kms or so of farms, then coming to a tiny village of tea-stalls and shops, then going on through another 10 kms of farms.
This pic from Google shows part of the way we took:
You can see a center of buildings down in the south-west of the picture, then as you go along the road an empty area of multi-colored fields, then another small nexus of buildings at the upper north-east of the picture. From Pune to Aurangabad we must have passed through 20 or so such small villages, and some larger towns as well.
Notice the many striped areas of differing colors? These are the different crops being cultivated in small plots. Probably the most prevalent crop is sugar-cane:
but we also saw corn, onions, cauliflower, cotton and more.
While people in India are moving to cities at an increasing rate, 70% of people still live outside cities, and that means they are mostly farmers. The vast majority of farms here are tiny by USA standards – 95% of farms are 5 acres or less in size. On average these small-plot farms earn less than Rs. 2,500 per month – about $50.
But you don’t really need a satellite picture to tell you that farms are small in India – little goods-carrier trucks with sacks of produce, usually with sandal-footed laborers riding on top – are ubiquitous here. These all carry the output of small farms to markets and depots in cities and towns. Because refrigerated transport is virtually unknown this produce is consumed typically within days of harvest. If you are eating in India, chances are good everything on your plate came from with a few 100 kms of where you are. This is a gigantic contrast with a state like Massachusetts in the US, which produces a lot of dairy, apples and cranberries, but gets virtually all other produce from Florida, Texas or California.
Another thing we saw on the road was the intense dryness of the land, like these fields:
or this dry river-bed:
Note the distant pools of water? In monsoon time this whole area will be a flowing river.
The monsoon is the arbiter of life here – it fills lakes (most artificially created by dams) and the water table that cities, villages and farms draw water from all through the year. The rains of June-Aug last year were especially sparse, and Maharashtra is now enduring the worst drought in decades. While many farmers are fleeing to cities, seeking work as laborers, some see no option but suicide – and there are stories of farm women and girls becoming sex-workers in cities like Mumbai.
A poor monsoon is only part of the reason for the drought. Clearly a great contributor is all the manufacturing I talked about at the start of this post. All factories use a lot of water. In addition to auto- and electrical-manufacturing, we passed paper mills and sugar refineries – two extremely water intensive operations. There does seem to be some local response happening, as I read here. The main technique is rainwater harvesting, where rain in monsoon time, through gutters and other catch methods is directed to cisterns, local ponds, or even straight to the water table. Another technique is the guli plug. The idea here is to create simple soil and rock dams in gullies to force more rainfall into the local water table:
This picture comes from the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR). WOTR is an NGO active in 5 Indian states. One of the funding partners of WOTR is Blue Planet Network, which works to improve water quality and availability throughout the developing world. BPN fund raises for many projects, including several in Maharashtra.
I am intrigued. Apparently a mere $6,000 will provide drinking water for a hamlet of 140 people. This looks to be a space where small donations can have profound impact.
I will post more when I know more. On our trip we saw many women working with water or carrying water, like this lady rinsing clothes in a trickle of water by the side of the road:
Maharashtra needs more scenes like this: