SANGLI/ SATARA: Open trailers packed with families and cattle have become a common sight along Maharashtra's highways - a telling sign of the distress the drought in 15 districts of the state has brought with it. Truckloads of villagers are migrating from the hinterland to cities like Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur in desperate search for livelihood.
While many officials deny the drought-driven migration, the absence of male heads in rural homes in water-starved parts of the state reveals another reality. A senior official from Satara admits that the district has witnessed 10% more migration this year. Local officials say the low minimum wages of the Centre's flagship employment guarantee scheme (NREGA) have contributed to the outflow of potential job-seekers.
In Khatav taluka, Satara, fragmented families are a sorry reality in one home after another. Landowner Adhik Wagh (32) has taken a break from his driver's job and is on a brief visit to his native village in Katgoon.
"We used to have ksheti (fields) of our own and cattle too. With not a drop of rain this year, there is no ksheti or water to give the cattle. I work in Kolhapur as a driver and earn enough to educate my two children ," said Wagh, who recently sold his buffalo.
Worse off are farm labourers like Mugathrao Wagh (65), whose work has dried up with the wasting away of successive crops. "My wife, daughterin-law and I were all farm hands and would earn enough to feed ourselves. We are all sitting at home now, while my son does labour in cities and brings home some money," said Mugathrao . Sangli collector says many are choosing city over NREGA.
Satara collector N Ramaswami said that migration is tough to estimate , admitting that it is "slightly higher than last year" in the light of a dry spell in the district.
District-level surveys had shown that 2,000-3 ,000 more workers had left the district.
The desperation for jobs is no different in neighbouring Sangli. Dhanashree Gaikwad of Pangri village has been playing mother and father to her two toddlers ever since her husband left for the 'city' in search of work. "It is tough living apart, but we have no choice," she says.
Sangli collector Shyam Wardhane said there was enough work for those who were willing, but admitted that villagers often did not opt for employment under NREGA as they thought minimum wages were too low. Ahmednagar collector Sanjeev Kumar also denied drought-driven migration in his district, though locals stated otherwise.