88.6% Of Karnataka’s Area Under Drought As Govt Admits Design Flaw in Water Schemes

Sunil Patil | Jun 13, 2019 | 22 min read


Athani, Belagavi: Dhonduram Tukaram Sutar, 68, a farmer and social worker from Pandegaon village has 2.5 acres of farmland where he would grow jowar (sorghum), a type of millet, every year. Jowar is a dry-land crop which can be grown both in the Rabi and the Kharif seasons. However, Sutar says that last year due to scanty rainfall, he witnessed crop failure. Clad in a white kurta-pyjama and wearing a Gandhi topi, Sutar said that farming is the primary source of income for him.

The Athani taluk under the Belagavi district in North Karnataka is reeling under the effects of drought. The rainfall in the region is inadequate to sustain agriculture in the region. While, on the other hand, there are farmers who have experienced crop failure and haven't been fully compensated. Most of these farmers also rear cattle, which is an alternative source of income, especially in cases when agriculture is not thriving. But, due to the increasing water stress, the farmers are not even able to manage their cattle, and this is leading to the migration of people from the taluk to other places.

The data collected by the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) shows that between the period from 1st October to 31st December last year, Belagavi district where the Athani taluk is situated recorded a rainfall of about 50.60 mm against the average of 152.50 mm for that particular period. In the case of Athani taluk, actual rainfall was 40.38 mm against the average, which is 135.70 mm for the period between 1st October to 31st December 2018. The KSNDMC is an autonomous body affiliated to the revenue department of the Government of Karnataka.

This is problematic for farmers like Sutar who are primarily dependent on agriculture as their major source of livelihood. To supplement his income from farming, Sutar also has livestock consisting of three cows and five goats. After setting aside some milk for the family, he sells the rest at the price of Rs 30 per litre. While, on the other hand, he is rearing the goat for meat and sells at least two goats in every six months. He lives with his son and daughter-in-law who currently work as daily wage labourers in fields.

The KSNDMC data for pre-monsoon rainfall from 1st March 2019 to 25th May shows that there are at least 6 districts in Karnataka which fall under the ‘Scanty’ category, i.e., districts where departure from normal rainfall is between -99% to -60%. Belagavi is one of these 6 districts recording a rainfall of 25mm and a departure of -68%.

In Athani’s case, the pre-monsoon rainfall is just 36mm while the departure from average rainfall was -39%. The situation is graver in neighbouring taluks within the Belagavi district like Chikkodi (18mm rainfall, departure -76%), Raybag (28mm rainfall, departure -55%) and Gokak (16mm rainfall, departure -81%).

Dr H Venkatesh, agrometeorologist at All India Coordinated Research Projects (AICRP) under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), said that rainfall in the North Karnataka district varies every year. “One year there will be good rainfall in June, while in some years, monsoon starts much later in July and it rains regularly in October during the harvesting period for short term crops. Thus, we provide short time rain forecast, medium time forecast, and now the extended long forecast is under experimental level. These predictions reach farmers through ‘Havaamaana Krishi’ mobile application,” he said.

The KSNDMC has also come up with a help-desk called the ‘Varuna Mitra’ to inform farmers with weather-related information through three different phone lines which operate round the clock.

Dr GS Shrinivas Reddy, Director at KSNDMC, said “Varun Mitra is not just dealing with Bengaluru but with the state. All kinds of weather parameters are being given to the farmers through its call centre. About 15, 25,000 calls from farmers were received in the year 2018 in which 52, 471 calls were from farmers,” he said. The Indian meteorological department gives the district wise weather forecast details while KSNDMC gives village level weather information to farmers.

A history of scanty rainfall in the region

Belagavi in north Karnataka has been identified as one of those regions which are permanently drought-prone. The situation is worsening with each passing year with farmers witnessing crops failure, cattle not getting fodder, people not getting water.

Pandegaon, Khilegaon, Shirur, Ajur, Sambaragi, Vishnuvadi, Jakkaratti, Madabhavi and other villages of Anantapur Zilla panchayat constituency are facing an acute shortage of water due to sparse rainfall in the past two years. “Because there is no water, farmers are forced to sell their cattle,” said Dhonduram Tukaram Sutar.

Last year, the government of Karnataka declared 156 out the total 176 taluks in the state as drought-hit. Almost 88.6% of the state’s area was declared as drought-hit. A joint survey was to be conducted to estimate the loss endured in the rabi season but, villagers of Pandegaon complain that since they are a border village, the Central and state study teams that are supposed to analyze the drought situation in Athani have not visited them.

However, Sutar says that there are about 22 villages situated in the northern part of Athani taluk which shares geographical boundaries with Maharashtra. These villages, although experiencing a drought, have not benefited from government schemes because administration has not reached the bordering villages, says Sutar.

Although some basic facilities like fodder banks and tanker water facilities have been initiated on the basis of survey reports, the frequency at which these facilities are made available hasn’t been sufficient.

Villagers who live in these border villages,especially the ones like Pandegaon which is just one-and-a-half kilometres away from the border, migrate to villages like Kavathe-Mahankal, Dhulgaon, Salgare, Mahalunge villages of Miraj taluka of Sangli district, Maharashtra. The reason for the migration is paucity of basic facilities like drinking water, fodder and water for their cattle and jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA).The villagers say that they choose to work as farm labour in the fields of the farmers in these neighbouring Maharashtra villages as these are well irrigated and they manage to find work.

Athani taluk recorded a population of 5.25 lakh in the 2011 census, and it is expected to increase to 5.9 lakh by 2021, as per the district statistical office.

Normal rainfall as per the data collected over the years 1951 to 2000 in Athani is 541mm with the taluk recording only 34 days of rainfall in a year on an average, lowest in Belagavi district among its 10 taluks. There are 10 rain gauges in Athani to record the rainfall data in the taluk, which receives most of its rainfall during the months of June, July and August.

Rainfall data in Athani over the years


Rainfall (in mm)





























Source: District Statistical Office, Belagavi

While Athani taluk recorded below average rainfall between 2006 and 2018 (according to data available with District Statistical Office), 2011 and 2012 turned out to be years of the worst drought, recording 295mm and 225mm of rainfall, respectively. This consistent trend of less than normal rainfall has led to a severe groundwater depletion in the district, with almost six lakh people of the taluk depending on it for all needs from drinking to farming.

There are very few open wells in Athani and are about 120 feet deep. Dhonduram Sutar says that tanker water is being supplied but many bore wells drilled in villages by the authorities have dried up. One can see borewells drilled in every field there but most of them have dried up due to shortage in rainfall and a drop in groundwater levels. The villagers say that one must drill over 700 to 800 feet deep only after seeking permission from panchayats.

A.V Manjunath, Assistant professor and an expert on agricultural water management, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), said that borewells are not serving their purpose anymore as even after drilling several meters, they do not find groundwater. He stated that the examples of dams in areas like Kolar and Chikkaballapur which have dried up. “The water quality is also very poor as water from the borewell has high fluoride content,” he added.

The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) published a draft report on a water management plan for the Athani Taluk in March 2017. It confirmed Manjunath’s claims of water contamination as the report stated that there are high levels of fluoride and nitrate beyond the permissible levels.


Low agricultural productivity and crop insurance

Pandurang Mane, 70, a farmer from the Shirur village in Athani grows maize and bajra (pearl millet) on about 2.5 acres of land he owns. “As there haven’t been sufficient rains in the past two years, I didn’t have good yields,” he said, adding that the seeds he had sown last year did not even sprout.

Mane says that the monthly income generated, including the money that his children send, amounts between Rs 5,000 and 6,000 every month. His individual income from farming in a year is only about Rs 20,000. “My income is reducing drastically with every passing year. At this age, we even don’t get work in other fields,” he said.

As per Land Utilisation data from 2016-17, Athani has 1.99 lakh hectare geographical area, of which 581 hectares is forest land, 6,647 hectare non-agriculture land, 4364 barren and uncultivable land.

The 2016-17 report on irrigation in the Athani taluk from the district statistical office showed total sown area which is 1,60,774 hectares. Sugarcane is a major commercial crop that is grown in the Athani taluk but currently, it is only being practised in areas situated at the banks of the Krishna river. In addition to that, there are several dry land crops like cotton, maize, jowar, bajra, ragi, wheat, Bengal gram among others, which are being grown in areas which do not have easy access to water for irrigation.

The condition of farmers living in villages that have proper irrigation channels due to their proximity to Krishna river is better than those which are located far away from the river bank. Some of these villages are Ainapur, Shirhatti, Saptasagar, Shankaratti, Darur, Satti where farmers are capable of growing water intensive crops like sugarcane. While, on the other hand, rain fed villages far away from the Krishna river like Jambagi, Ajur, Madabhavi, Pandegaon, Malabad, Shirur, Anantapur, Shivnoor face a grave situation because of scanty rainfall.

Surakod VS, Senior Scientist of Agronomy at the AICRP under the ICAR, said that the production of yield has reduced due to prolonged drought situation in the past few years in dry lands of north Karnataka.

“The successful dryland agriculture practice is good for moisture conservation. To increase productivity or to get good yield, even during drought, the farmers should plough vertically at low lying land so that the rain water gets harvested in the field during monsoon which helps to maintain soil moisture,” he said.

Similarly, he added that in the Rabi season, farmers should cultivate the land in small square patterns while sowing the seeds. He claims that this helps water retention and in turn maintains soil moisture. “The farmers in Hanawad village in Vijayapura at Athani boundary have been getting good yield by practicing this method even in drought. We are educating farmers by conducting sessions on this practice,” he said.  

Land utilisation data from 2016-17 sourced from the District Statistical Office shows that total area sown in Athani is 1,60,774 Ha, while, the net sown area is 1,28,234 Ha and area sown twice is 32,540 Ha. However, data on net area irrigated under different sources shows the following:

  1. Net area irrigated by canals is 2640 Ha, gross area is 3300 Ha and the canal is 9 kilometres in length.

  2. Net area and gross area irrigated by tanks is zero.

  3. Net area irrigated by wells is 23756 Ha, gross area is 29695 Ha. Also, there are 11,750 wells in the region.

  4. Net area irrigated by tube wells is 15112 Ha, gross area is 18350 Ha and there are 2521 tube wells in the taluk.

  5. Net area irrigated by lift irrigation is 15255 Ha, gross area is 18350 Ha and there and there are 4634 connections.

Other sources: Gross 28,179, net 22,534

Total crop loss in Athani due to moisture stress during the Rabi season in 2018 is 34604 ha and the compensation received was Rs. 2353.07 lakhs by the state government.

The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), a crop insurance scheme, which was launched in 2016, witnessed the highest number of enrollments in the Belgaum district. In 2016, 1,40,089 farmers enrolled for the Rabi season and 31,538 for the Kharif season. This number fell drastically in 2017 with only 1910 farmers enrolling for the Rabi season and 151 farmers in the Kharif season. However, this has been attributed to the region receiving good rainfall. In 2018, about 1849 farmers in Rabi season and 8547 farmers in the Kharif season enrolled for crop insurance in the district.

In Athani, 1849 farmers in Rabi season and 8547 farmers in the Kharif season enrolled for crop insurance under PMFBY. Farmers in the district have been paid compensation under the crop insurance scheme only till 2016. Although the farmers who have faced crop failure in 2017 and 2018, are yet to get crop compensation since the government is still collecting and collating the data.

The cattle conundrum

Annappa Nimbal, 55, a farmer from Khilegaon village in Athani taluk, said that there aren’t any green fields that the cattle can graze on. “We are completely dependent on fodder banks to get fodder,” he said. Pandurang Mane, farmer from Shirur village who owns four cows, echoed the same concerns.

MB Patil, 35, is the talathi (village accountant) at the revenue department. He works at the Shirur village Talathi office. He informed that the fodder bank has been functional in the Shirur village from February 2, 2019 to provide fodder to the farmers of Shirur, Sambaragi and Pandegaon villages. Similar fodder banks have also been opened within the Khilegaon and Ajur gram panchayats.

“We are providing 15 kilogrammes of fodder to each cattle at the rate of Rs 1 per kg for wet and Rs 2 for dry fodder. The veterinary officers who have surveyed the cattles in villages have provided the list with number of cattle and farmers so that we can ensure the real time requirement of fodder and prevent misuse of fodder funds,” he said.

He added that every farmer has to show their Aadhaar card and a small book of records made available to them so that village accountant can confirm the purchase and the farmer can acknowledge it by signing on it. In Shirur village alone there are 2200 cattle.While some farmers have their own fodder stock which they have bought from other sellers, about 180 farmers currently visit the fodder bank frequently for their cattle.

“About 15 to 18 tonnes of sugarcane is brought to each fodder bank. As the situation is going to worsen further, more fodder banks are planned to open in Sambaragi and other villages,” he said.

Patil informed that water is being supplied to these villages under the Multi Village Scheme (MVS). Government water tanks supply drinking water to the villages everyday. Although on paper, tankers should be supplying at least 40 litres of water per person, the villagers claim that they get only two to three pots (with a capacity of holding 15 to 20 litres of water) of drinking water. The villagers also add that although they are supplied with drinking water, water for other activities like bathing or water the fields is not available because of which, many a time, they end up using the drinking water.

But the villagers say 15 kg fodder for one cow a day is not enough and say that for a healthy cow to provide enough milk, at least 20 to 25 kgs of fodder is necessary. Because of this, the cattle have stopped providing enough milk and the farmers are forced to sell them at low prices to those who would buy them in and around the village. Sometimes, they have to sell cattle to those living across the state border or send their cattle to their relatives houses in Maharashtra where there is enough water or fodder available.

The fodder banks are helpful to the villagers but villagers say they face problems in the months of April and May when fodder banks also run short of supply. Sugarcane bagasse from factories is a major source of fodder in these banks and when these sugar mills are non-functional in the summer months, there emerges a shortage in supply which in turn is a major problem for those rearing cattle in the drought-affected regions.

Sutar from Pandegaon said that people are forced to walk for three to four kilometres and bring fodder from the fodder banks. Hence, the government must start the fodder banks in every village, he added. “Earlier goshalas (cow shelter) were being opened but this has stopped since the past four to five years. Goshala concept is good, hence it should be brought back,” he urged.

Migration of people for better avenues

The villagers say that since there is no work in farms, they worked for some days under MGNREGA scheme but they claim that most of the works have not begun. Gram panchayat has stopped taking up new works in village under this scheme.

Annappa Nimbal, farmer from Khilegaon village, said, “Although we have agricultural land, we have no works there and not getting jobs in MGNREGA too. We are living in a dire situation here.”

Farmers said that because MGNREGA works are not being provided, young people from the villages in the Athani taluk migrate to neighbouring villages in Maharashtra for labour works in farms and the construction sector.

Pandurang Mane from Shirur has two sons who along with their wives travel to neighbouring villages like Miraj and Sangli in Maharashtra where they do odd jobs in sectors like construction and even work in agricultural fields of others. “As there is no water, work and job is here, my sons have migrated to neighbouring Maharashtra for work.They come to the village once a month,”  he said.

NREGA data for the district of Athani sourced from the taluk panchayat office shows that over the years, the percentage of work completed under the scheme has gone down although on paper, different kinds of development works may have been introduced under the scheme.

Financial year

20152016 and earlier




Percentage (%) of NREGA works completed





Source: Athani taluk panchayat office

The people living in the drought affected villages claim that under the central government's NREGA scheme, people in these affected villages not getting jobs. When inquired, the Gram Panchayat, the officials claim that there is no budget that has been allocated for this.

However, the official MGNREGA website shows that there is a total of about 3226 job cards that have been issued in the Athani taluk while the number of active workers are 1403.

Shivaji Kaganikar, a Janajagaran (NGO) activist and member of Bhrashtachar Nirmulan Samiti, Belagavi, said that MGNREGA is one of the most important programmes for people in the rural areas as this ensures they get 150 days guaranteed employment in a year. But this programme is not effectively being implemented in district by the government officials, he said.

“Jobs are not given until rural women fight for it in large numbers. Although, direct payment to job card holders has been brought about, corruption is rampant in the MGNREGA scheme. In some areas, people create fake job cards and bank accounts,” he said.

Kaganikar emphasised on the need to create awareness about the MGNREGA programme amongst the rural folk for greater transparency.

“Besides this, the district is drought affected and MGNREGA is the only programme which will help poor people get two square meals a day. The wages are also not being paid on time due to which the villagers are suffering a lot. The Zilla Panchayat needs to take up the bund construction works under MGNREGA more so in case of the drought affected regions so that rainwater can be collected but unfortunately, that’s not happening,” he said.

A case for improved water conservation in the backdrop of shortage

Savitri Rokade, 45, a housewife from Ugar Khurd town in Athani taluk, recently led a protest comprising of women on the issue of shortage of drinking water. The protest was carried out by blocking the main road. She blamed the politicians for the water problem in the town as this problem has been ongoing for quite some years and the authorities have not been able to find a permanent solution to resolve this issue.

Multi village water scheme(MVS) ensures that drinking water is supplied to the villages in Athani. Water is stored in overhead tanks which is sourced from Krishna river. But the MVS is dysfunctional in summer as Krishna river itself gets dried in summer months every year and in such a situation, tankers are the only source.

The MVS is not being able to provide it’s promised benefits in Athani and Kagwad talukas as there is no water in the Krishna river basin. The Deccan Herald reported on 20 May, 2019 that the drinking water problem in the Athani taluk is a major issue of concern. To add to that, the Maharashtra government is not releasing water from the Koyna dam to the drought- hit villages in north Karnataka as it had done in the previous years.

Rokade said, “Rich people have no problem as they are buying a pot of water for Rs 20 but how can the poor family quench their and their cattle thirst. Authority should provide enough tanker water to villages until water scarcity ends, she urged.

The Deccan Herald reported in February this year that in the last five years, in the case of Karnataka, the centre has cut 64% of the funds under the National Rural Drinking Water Project (NRDWP). The centre’s contribution in 2018-19 has fallen to Rs. 312.33 cr from Rs. 868.76 cr in 2013-14.

The reservoir levels in the state are slowly depleting in the backdrop of low rainfall. The KSNDMC tracks the reservoir levels in the state. As on May 18 (need to update) , there are about 13 reservoirs with a present capacity of only 16% from the overall capacity.

<Insert table picture from https://www.ksndmc.org/Uploads/RL.pdf >

Another news report discussed how there is a “design flaw” in the case of the different water schemes which rely on water sources which completely dry up in the summer months. The Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Minister Krishna Byre Gowda acknowledged this problem in a press conference, mentioned the report.

Gowda in the press conference mentioned that in a recent review, the officials had informed that around 75 multi-village water schemes that were functional in different villages have stopped because of lack of water sources and the absence of a plan to manage such a situation.

To solve the water issues especially in the context of agriculture, Gayatri Projects Limited (GPL) in a joint venture with RNS Infrastructure Limited and Sadhguru Private Limited was given a contract for lift irrigation project in the Athani taluk by the Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited (KNNL). The project will provide irrigation to area spanning about 27, 462 hectares in the Athani taluk.

M Shrinivas, Deputy General Manager, mechanical department, Gayatri Pvt Ltd, said, “Basaveshwara-Kempwad lift irrigation scheme was taken up at the cost of Rs. 1363 crore. Water will be lifted from the left bank of Krishna river near Ainapur village in Athani to cater water to about 20 villages including Madabhavi, Aralihatti, Vishnuvadi, Anantapur, Sambaragi, Jambagi, Khilegav, Shirur, Pandegav and other situated at the border of Maharashtra,” he said.

However, since the project was started only in 2017, it still awaits completion. Shrinivas says that it will take at least three and a half years more for the project to be complete and functional. Currently, only 50% of the work is completed.

A.V Manjunath from ISEC, says that crops in these dryland areas, like Jowar for instance, are not only grown for consumption but is also used as fodder. Therefore, he asserts that that dry land farmers who are primarily dependent on rainfall for irrigating their fields, are the worst affected.

There are one or two bunds in every village but, the villagers say that these have remained dry. In the case of small lakes in the villages of Athani, Dhondiram Sutar of Pandegaon, said that because of the constant drought situation prevailing in the area since the past 14 years, they haven't really seen significant rainwater get collected in these lakes. The government has taken up desilting work of some lakes in taluk but It has to lay the pipeline from Krishna river to fill these lakes during rain season by pumping the water.

Manjunath says that with improved micro-irrigation techniques, like drip irrigation and sprinklers, agriculture in dry land areas can be facilitated. “People think that if surface water is readily available through canals, why should they opt for a drip. But, for people away from the canals, who probably live downstream, they get lesser water,” Therefore, he explains that if farmers who live upstream utilised these drips, others living further away would not feel the water stress that severely.

He also added that aggressive investments in programmes for soil and water conservation is something that can help mitigate the drought situation because the situation is going to get worse. “If you look at the temperature now, it is really high. Traditional and easy techniques like mulching can also help retain soil moisture. Bunding is another technique in which we can store rainwater and prevent run-offs,” he said.

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