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 second in a seven-part series, which explores the situation in Banda, Panna, Damoh, Mahoba and Chitrakoot.
Damoh: When people start drinking water from dirty ponds frequented by animals for drinking and bathing, that’s enough evidence that the situation is critical.
Members of the Gond tribe, who are residents of Dahagaon village under Damoh district’s Batiagarh block (a part of Bundelkhand), have been pushed to do just that — try to survive on contaminated water.
With a population of around 800, the village has no access to potable water, a basic amenity that the state government should have ensured. All the six hand pumps in the village, which is located around 45 kilometres from the district headquarters of Damoh, have been lying dead.
The village’s troubled waters
Bablu Gond, a resident who lives in a kachcha house and spends half the day searching for water to take back home, has been going to a pond frequented by dogs, pigs, cows, and goats to fill up. He has been doing this for so long that it no longer even occurs to him how unhygienic it is, which just goes to show how long the area has been making do without proper drinking water. “We use this water for drinking and preparing food,” he shrugged.
Such dirty ponds have become multi-purpose for the villagers, considering the lack of adequate water sources — besides using the water for drinking and cooking, children in the village bathe in the same stagnant water body, and women wash clothes, where wandering animals quench their thirst. The water is contaminated with animal faeces, but villagers have run out of options.
Mura, another tribal, said, “Hand pumps do not work here, and even when they used to, the water was heavily adulterated with corroded metal. Diarrhoea and vomiting have become regular, with women and children being the most affected.”
Pointing towards a woman filling her utensils in the pond, Mura added, “She lost her two-year-old boy after he got sick on drinking the water.”
According to a report of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent population research centre of the University of Washington, diarrhoea was the second-biggest cause of death among children in the age group 0-14 years in Madhya Pradesh in 2016. Nearly 36.1 percent of children in that age group died due to diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections in the state that year.
Another resident, Bhagwati, said, “Most of my life has been spent in fetching water; providing clean water is the least the sarkar (government) can do for us!”
Kamal Singh Adivasi, the sarpanch of Dalpatpura gram panchayat under which Dahagaon falls, said, “I have approached the panchayat and administration officers many times to complain about the lack of clean drinking water, but they send me off with a hollow assurance every time.”
Access to clean drinking water is not only the problem of Dahagaon, Adivasi added, saying most villages in the area are facing an acute water crisis in this sweltering summer, and yet, the local administration has been turning a blind eye to it.
The magnitude of the problem becomes apparent when you look at the statistics — the government itself has declared nearly 4,000 villages drought-affected, and 120 urban local bodies across the state are failing to provide the daily water supply to the citizens; 38 towns in the state are getting water only every third day.
According to a report of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) tabled in the Rajya Sabha, groundwater table in the state has dipped by 65 percent.
A CGWB analysis of water level from monitoring wells, carried out from 2008 to 2017, showed that 59 percent of the wells analysed — 782 of 1,330 — showed a decline in the water level. The same report showed that groundwater in 150 areas across 45 districts was found contaminated with an above permissible limit of fluoride.
Blame game continues
When contacted, Bharti Mishra, sub-divisional magistrate of Patharia sub-division, said, "As of now, there are no new measures to tackle the water crisis in the area."
CEO of the Damoh Zilla Panchayat Girish Mishra, however, said the village sarpanch has been directed to utilise 10 percent funds from the Panch Parmeshwar scheme to provide water to the residents. “There are many remote areas where water supply is not proper, and locals have to rely on alternative sources,” he admitted.
On being asked whether he was aware of the situation in Dahagaon, he said he wasn’t but would look into it.
It is, however, becoming more and more apparent that the Congress state government is finding it hard to tackle the water crisis. The Kamal Nath-led government on 7 June had issued an advisory through its home department to the civil and police administration to man the major water sources across the state to prevent untoward incidents due to the crisis.
Though calls made to PL Tantuway, local BJP MLA, went unanswered, state BJP chief Rakesh Singh, in a series of tweets, accused the Congress government of “failing to serve the public” as it needs police to distribute water. “The Congress government is escaping its responsibility, which is unfortunate,” Singh wrote in one of the tweets.
Congress media coordinator Narendra Saluja, however, blamed scanty rainfall for the water crisis. “The situation has arisen due to poor rainfall; no government or party can be blamed. The advisory to the police is issued every year, there is nothing new in it. The BJP has resorted to petty politics.”
Urban Development and Housing Minister Jaivardhan Singh said, “We are actually doing better than the BJP, as 258 urban local bodies out of 378 have been getting water daily; in 2018, the figure was 193. Also, wherever needed, we are arranging water tankers as well.”
(Author is a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.)
Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 18:56:17 IST