UP's Kabrai battles year-long dry period due to illegal sand mining; parched residents turn on each other for water

Editor's Note: This summer has taken a toll on large parts of north, north-west and north-central India. As the country witnesses extremely high temperatures ever, here is a look at the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which has been hit by another drought, and several villages don't even have basic drinking water. This is the third in a seven-part series, which explores the situation in Banda, Panna, Damoh, Mahoba and Chitrakoot.

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Mahoba: Kapoori Tripathi, 57, a resident of Kabrai area in Mahoba district, recently sustained some minor injuries, even as not-too-old cuts shine on her hands as she climbs the water tanker to fetch some water for her family.

This is a vital part of her daily routine, and it takes up nearly half of her day.

The Kabrai area was declared a grey zone — the second-worst level to denote a drought-like situation by the administration in 2018; yet, the work to fill up water bodies for replenishing the groundwater, which the irrigation department was supposed to carry out, hasn’t started. The reason is that there is no water to work with! Whatever supply is coming in tankers can either be put in the dried up water bodies or given to residents for drinking.

“Water supply in our area is pathetic. The hand pumps have gone dry, and tankers are the only source. Even though they come every day, not everyone gets their share; it almost feels like waging a war to get one's hands on some water, and the men are more successful at it,” she said.

“One has to risk one's life to get the water, as people run behind the tankers and climb on it to take it out.”

A fight for survival

 UPs Kabrai battles year-long dry period due to illegal sand mining; parched residents turn on each other for water

People struggle to get water from a water tanker in Uttar Pradesh's Kabrai. Image courtesy: 101Reporters

With summer at its peak, verbal fights and reports of fisticuffs have become a daily affair for the residents of Kabrai, which is almost 30 kilometres from the district headquarters. And Shoba Ram Kashyap, a social and environmental activist based in Banda district, which adjoins Kabrai, issues an ominous warning: “It shouldn’t surprise anyone if people start killing each other for water soon.”

But it’s not the season that is to be blamed for the water crisis here. The real culprit is illegal sand mining, which this area of the Bundelkhand region is infamous for. The illegal mining has affected the groundwater, forcing the residents to fight and stake their life for it.

Kashyap said, “Earlier, the groundwater was at 80 feet; now, it is at more than 200. The reason behind this depleting level is illegal mining, as there has been no control over it. Miners are continuously exploiting the mountains for stone and other minerals due to which the water level has steadily gone down. The government, too, is handing out permissions for the same without giving it a second thought.”

The cost of the crisis

For first-year student Ritu Kumari, 23, this water crisis is costing her her education. She said she doesn’t get time to attend classes as she has to walk more than five kilometres a day to fetch water for her family.

“People who have hand pumps in their houses don’t give water to anyone else. This has become an everyday problem, and there is no end to it,” she complained, adding that fights over water have risen, with more and more people becoming increasingly violent.

She added that a couple of young boys from her area were injured when they tried to climb a moving tanker, which was gathering speed, and no one stopped to help them as everyone was busy running behind the vehicle to get water. “Earlier, such a situation arose only during the summers, but now, it happens all through the year. The struggle to get water is worsening by the day.”

According to nagar panchayat secretary Moolchandra Kushwaha, eight tankers have been deployed for Kabrai area. “This number is not enough at all, as Kabrai is a dry area. Also, we are not getting any support from the Jal Sansthan. Recently, we installed two hand pumps because most of the existing ones have been lying defunct,” he alleged.

“There are about 358 public hand pumps in the area, but hardly 35-40 are working. The department concerned is not paying heed to the problem — officials responsible for repairing the hand pumps say they are unable to do it because they have not been paid for their work since the past few months.”

What the officials say

With summer at its peak, verbal fights and reports of fisticuffs have become a daily affair for the residents of Kabrai. Image courtesy: 101Reporters

With summer at its peak, verbal fights and reports of fisticuffs have become a daily affair for the residents of Kabrai. Image courtesy: 101Reporters

Admitting that there is an acute water crisis in the area, Raj Kumar Singh, the station house in charge of Kabrai police station, said, “I was given this posting recently, and I don’t know much about the water woes, but yes, I do get cases of minor fights and abuses hurled every day. All the cases are related to water. Based on that, I have drawn the conclusion that water is a major problem here. We have been getting the cases resolved through discussions.”

The SHO, however, refused to say anything on the illegal mining being done in the area.

“The fact that Bundelkhand has been exploited by the mining mafia is not hidden from anyone...The area has been infamous for mining, but I cannot comment on the conditions now,” Singh said.

Kashyap, however, is not mincing his words. “The situation is set to become more serious, as there is no water source in Mahoba district. There are no rivers in Mahoba, and the only sources are groundwater, which is almost on the verge of getting over, and the dam, though water there will hardly last 10 more days. Also, the monsoon is late.”

The district administration, however, claimed that there is enough water in the dam to supply to Mahoba for the month of June, and that it will last till the rains arrive.

Mahoba District Magistrate Sehdev admitted to the water crisis and said efforts are being taken to ensure a continuous supply. "We cannot, however, blame the problem on mining," he signed off.

(Author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.)

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 21:10:44 IST