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Karnataka elections: With Shimsha River drying up in Maddur, farmers fight for water, livelihood

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    Maddur, May 3: Almost 80 kms away from Karnataka's capital city of Bengaluru lies the otherwise quaint township of Maddur in Mandya district, which is bustling with activities these days, thanks to the upcoming Assembly elections in the state.

    As vehicles mounted with loudspeakers and plastered with posters of political parties zoom past the narrow lanes of the township in south Karnataka, residents come out in sizeable numbers to collect colourful leaflets left behind by the supporters of candidates contesting the polls. The election to the 224-member Karnataka Assembly is scheduled on May 12. The results will be declared on May 15.

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    Amid the noise and excitement associated with any Indian election, the Shimsha River placidly flows through the heart of Maddur, famous for its sugarcane, coconut and paddy cultivation.

    Over the years, Shimsha, a tributary of Cauvery River, has turned into a shadow of its former self, making it look like a sluggish pond struggling to survive incessant sand digging, lack of rainfall in the past few years and pollution.

    All these years, Shimsha River has been the lifeline for the people of Maddur, predominantly engaged in agriculture. Almost 70 per cent of the people in Maddur constituency are farmers. Now, the river, especially during the summer season, can't fulfil the water demands of the farmers, forcing them to dig massive borewells in almost every km in Maddur.

    Lack of availability of irrigation water is a major election issue in Maddur, which most political parties are not ready to talk about in details. Farmer HP Bala Raja Gowda, who owns several acres of land, told OneIndia that water is scarce in Maddur and neighbouring villages which is causing a lot of distress to cultivators.

    "Water is the main election issue here. We also need regular supply of electricity to pump water into our fields. Streets here are in bad shape as anyone can see that easily. The drainage system is almost non-existent in Maddur," said Gowda.

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    Echoing similar sentiments, his friend and fellow farmer, Ramchandra KH, stated that non-availability of water has forced digging of a large number of borewells in the town and neighbouring areas which in turn has resulted in the depletion of ground water.

    Last year, as drought-like condition prevailed in Karnataka, the incumbent Congress government carried out cloud seeding in Maddur, Ramanagar and Kanakpura. A sum of Rs 300 crore was spent on the 'experiment' with the hope of bringing "good rainfall" to the "parched land". Unfortunately, the effort did not yield much result and farmers of Maddur feel that the entire exercise caused "harm to the environment".

    Lack of irrigation water, high input costs, piling debts, non-payment of dues by buyers and shrinking of individual land holding to name a few problems have brought a lot of misery to the farmers in Maddur. The manifestation of their miseries could be well-gauged from the number of suicides the entire district of Mandya, the sugarcane belt of Karnataka, has witnessed in the past few years.

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    According to reports, out of at least 3,500 suicides of farmers in Karnataka in the last five years, around 200 farmers in the district have killed themselves in 2015 and 2016.

    If water is scarce, so is electricity. The farmers complained that they get only three hours of electricity a day to irrigate their fields. Most often frequent power cuts ensure that electricity supply remains available for not more than an hour a day.

    Talking about using generators to irrigate their lands, Ramchandra said that they were in no position to do so because of high fuel prices. "I have to sell my land if I start using diesel generators," he said.

    Ramchandra suggested that instead of giving farm loan waiver, which anyway is of meagre amount, farmers should be given Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all their yields as stated by the Swaminathan Commission report. Experts say the Siddaramaiah government's Rs 8,165-crore farm loan waiver last year was aimed at wooing voters ahead of the elections.

    SH Linge Gowda, the former excise officer-turned-politician who is contesting the polls from Maddur constituency as a candidate of the Swaraj India party, said that agriculture is in doldrums in the region and unfortunately no politician was ready to have a conversation on it. Linge Gowda is one of the 13 candidates contesting elections from the Maddur constituency which has 2,02,418 voters.

    "As water crisis looms large over Maddur, farmers are a worried lot. Majority of the people here are engaged in agriculture. Over the past few years, farmers are facing several problems. This has also led to rise in unemployment," Linge Gowda told OneIndia.

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    The residents of Maddur are not very hopeful about their future looking at the way the whole election campaign is unveiling. "The candidates host big rallies and deliver speeches. They don't talk to us to understand our issues. They don't want to know what we want from them," said a youth, who works in a private company in Bengaluru.

    The constituency has elected the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) candidates in the previous two Assembly elections in 2008 and 2013.

    The supporters of sitting JD(S) MLA from Maddur, DC Thammanna, expressed confidence of his win once again from the home turf of HD Deve Gowda family. With both Congress and BJP houses divided in Maddur as the parties saw their 'loyalists' leaving their parties in quick succession to join 'opponents' since last year, Thammanna does have an upper hand in the elections.

    But it is debutant like Linge Gowda, who aims to introduce "alternative politics", that is the key to understand the actual needs of the local people.

    Election or not, farmers of Maddur say they will till the land and grow crops till they can. Water, of course, remains a headache for the cultivators, but the green, lush fields of sugarcane, paddy and millet dotting Maddur are a testimony of human determination to cross all hurdles. And Shimsha River is a witness to all that.

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