Patna: Harendra Singh and his neighbour Prakash Mahto, both farmers in Bihar's drought-hit Arwal district, stand guard with guns at a canal - the only source of precious water for their fields - on the outskirts of their village.
They have done so from evening till late night daily for a week, with Arwal being one of the 26 districts in the state that are reeling from drought.
"We have no option but to guard the water in the canal with guns in our hands," Singh, who is in his early 50s, said over telephone from his village.
Mahto, in his late 40s, said over telephone: "It is the guns in our hand that create an impression that we will not under any circumstances allow the theft of water in a canal by neighbouring villagers," Mahto said.
Guns in the hands of farmers is not an uncommon sight in these parts. Hundreds of farmers in rural Bihar, particularly in the Maoist insurgency-hit districts of Arwal, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Nawada, Gaya and Patna are busy guarding water sources to save their paddy crops.
Those who can't afford guns are using traditional weapons like bamboo sticks and iron rods instead.
"We are guarding water in the canal because it is a do-or-die situation for us to save the paddy transplanted so far," said Balram Prasad, a farmer guarding water near his village in the jurisdiction of the Daudnagar police station.
Nannu Khan of a village in the Haspura block in Aurangabad district said: "There is little water available for irrigation. If we fail, others will take away the water."
A group of farmers from villages near Paliganj in rural Patna said they were forced to do this by scanty rainfall and little water in the canal.
"We are guarding water in the canal to stop anyone from diverting water to their fields," said Sanjay Yadav, a farmer in a village near Paliganj. Yadav said canals have little water and the water level is much below normal this year due to scanty rainfall. "Until 10 days ago, the canal was drying, the government released water only a few days ago," he said.
According to official sources, out of 7.94 million hectares of land under cultivation, only 4.56 million hectares are irrigated. Experts said only 20 per cent of canal systems were functioning across the state.
Last week 26 of Bihar's 38 districts were declared drought-hit in view of the scanty rainfall so far that has hit paddy seedling transplantation.
However, thousands of drought-stricken farmers got relief with widespread rainfall across the state in the last four days.
Bihar has recorded a 38 per cent rainfall deficit so far in this monsoon season, affecting the transplanting of paddy seedlings. The state had targeted sowing of paddy in over 3.5 million hectares this year, but the crop has only been planted over 1.53 million hectares so far.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the rice and maize output in the state may be 75 per cent less than average this year because of poor monsoon rains. In his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Kumar sought an assistance of Rs230.71 billion (Dh19 billion).