Drought brings flood of migrants to Mumbai

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Sandhya Nair, TNN | Mar 24, 2013, 05.12 AM IST

MUMBAI: The state's worst drought in decades has begun pushing rural folk towards Mumbai. Squeezed out of their villages by water scarcity, hundreds of young men from Maharashtra's parched interiors are now standing on the city's doorstep in search of employment.

They are seen hanging around construction sites and railway stations in Vasai-Virar and Mira-Bhayander , waiting to be hired as labourers by contractors. Back home, they are farmers, some of them even owning fields. The men say although the government supplies water to their villages once in a while, no monetary aid has reached them. Bhagwan Bade (25) from Ghevsai village in Jalna district, who now stays at Penkarpada in Mira Road, says the water in Mumbai's public toilets is much better than that supplied for drinking in the villages by the government. "We have seen our animals die over the past three years for lack of water and fodder, and this year it has only got worse—our own survival has become difficult," he said, adding, "If the situation continues, there will be an exodus to the city from villages hit by drought."

Over 3,900 villages in the state have been declared drought-hit . The worst affected districts are Nashik, Solapur and those in Marathwada and western Vidarbha, which saw less than 10% of the expected rainfall last year. Krishna Munde (27) of Karadgaon village in Jalna has been staying in the Vasai belt for two months, working as a painter on daily wage. Everyday , he lines up along with other labourers outside railway stations and busy junctions from where contractors pick them up.

"I have 12 acres of land in my village where I employ men to work under me. But today the field is not yielding even Rs 12," he said. "As I am not well educated, I have to take up a labourer's job." Munde manages to make Rs 150-200 on a good day. He sends a portion of his earnings to his parents and wife. If the situation back home does not improve, he says he will be forced to bring his wife and children to the city—his parents refuse to leave their village.

Munde and others like him have made the Mumbai-Ahmedabad national highway and the illegal hutments in Vasai-Virar and Mira-Bhayander their home. After work, they gather along the highway in Vasai, talking about the day they can return to their villages.

For migrants, every rupee makes a difference

Life's tough, but for men from drought-hit villages who make a beeline for Mumbai and its extended suburbs, there's little choice but to wait for good times. They sleep on street corners, take a bath under the cover of darkness and take turns to cook.

In these casual communities , men from different villages bond together and help one another find jobs and accommodation .

The signs of drought got worse in November, forcing the men to turn to the city. Vasudev Munde (24), who has a 10-acre field and a pucca house in Solapur, said it was the cumulative effect of more than three bad years that made him migrate. "I sold off my bullocks fearing they would die and ran to the city in search of a job," he said. "Back home we were self-contained till three to four years ago. But my parents still have hope."

Other places like Naigaon (E) and Ghodbunder Road in Thane have also become home for the droughtaffected . The men have now also started scouting for more secure rooms so that they can bring their wives and children over. Ganesh Bade (32) from Panegaon village of Jalna has already checked out the municipal school in Bhayander for his two children, but a decent home remains a challenge as even the chawls in Mira-Bhayander command deposits of Rs 10,000-15 ,000.

"I might have to pay a rent of Rs 2,500 if I need a proper roof," he said. "If the rains don't arrive on time, I will have to bring my family here forever." The men say none of them has gone to his village since arriving in the city. They speak with their families on the phone and say they are saving every rupee, just in case they have to bring their families over as well.