(News) In parched Bundelkhand, boy held for stealing water

News : In parched Bundelkhand, boy held for stealing water

Bundelkhand last made news over Rahul Gandhi's midnight visit to a Dalit home, provoking Chief Minister Mayawati and the BJP to question his motives. But as Lucknow and Delhi debate Dalit politics, Bundelkhand is seeing clashes and thefts over something far more basic: water.

On Saturday morning, 15-year-old Daya Shankar and three fellow villagers were arrested for allegedly trying to capture a tanker delivering drinking water to their village Mudhari in Mahoba district. Besides other charges, all four were booked under Section 353 of the IPC for obstructing government work. Three armed policemen are since on duty to ensure that tanker water is distributed fairly in Mudhari.

However, as villagers say, a tanker is a drop in the drought for their cattle and them. While Mudhari has 41 handpumps, only 10 are functional. Each time they are used for more than half an hour, the supply dries up as the water level falls too low.

Mudhari is not an exception. The race for water begins at 4 am in Bundelkhand as villagers try to be the first to reach the few functional handpumps. The tankers supplied by the administration reach around 8 am. Women and girls spend almost the entire day stocking up water.

Mahoba District Magistrate Vijay Vishwas Pant admits that while 2,000 handpumps have been either freshly dug or re-bored in the region, "the failure rate is about 30 per cent". In neighbouring Chitrakoot, DM Anamika Singh says the administration has identified 50 dry wells and will spend Rs 50,000 on each to replenish them.

In Darai village of Chitrakoot, the first thing that strikes you is the carcasses of animals. No tanker comes here, and 70 families depend on a single handpump. "Roz maar-peet hoti hai, bhaiya (There are fights every day)," says Gayatri Devi.

According to her, the problem is not only collection of water but also ensuring its protection. She points to Kashi, who stands with a lathi in his hand, guarding a drum containing water. Kashi is afraid someone might steal the water for his cattle.

Apart from the handpump, Darai depends on a baoli (stepwell) situated 4 km from the village. A special bullock cart has been fabricated just to carry water from the well. "It costs at least Rs 4,500. So all the villagers keep this cart," says Ayodhya Prasad. But Dalits like her, Gayatri points out, can't afford it.

The villagers claim the well is in the middle of a pond that is now dry, and that if this was pond was dug up, their water problem would be solved.

Sharda Prasad Yadav says they have lost many cattle because of non-availability of water. "Those cattle that could not be milked were left to their fate. As there is no agriculture, they are of no use," he adds.

Three days ago, Rampur in Chitrakoot saw clashes over a tanker. One villager was arrested and later released on bail.

Dharam Singh says a month ago, a group of veterinarians had visited Rampur. "After seeing the condition of our cattle, they assured us that a handpump would be installed. The pump was dug this week. Laga janwar ke liye, kam aa raha hai insan ke liye (It was meant for cattle, it is being used by humans)," he says.

Village pradhan Anand Singh Patel says the cattle are learning now that they have to fight for dwindling resources. "They clash with each other to get straw at the Sukha Rahat Pashu Kendra (the drought relief centre for animals)," Patel says.

He also charges that while the administration claims to have provided 37 quintals of wheat straw as drought relief, the actual amount was just 23 quintals.

Even Karaunhan, which is one of Mayawati's model Ambedkar villages, is in the same boat. "There are 500 houses of Kol in this village. Villagers are cutting trees to feed their cattle," says Prema Kol.

Courtesy : The Indian Express