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Is Maharashtra Governments water policy anti-tribal and anti-villagers? Well a visit to the surrounding rural areas of Mumbai confirms to this query. The inhabitants of these areas are suffering from acute water crisis, making it very clear that the governments priority lies in providing uninterrupted water supply to Mumbaikers, even if it comes at the cost of denying this basic right to the villagers. Shahapur, a census town just 70 km away from the maximum city situated in Thane district is one such village.

Thirsty and tired

It was 10 o’clock in the morning, and the harsh summer sun was shining at its full glory, when Anita Kharde in her 40’s from Kothare tribal hamlet to fetch water. She had been standing in the queue since 7 in the morning and after standing there for 3 long hours, she was finally able to fill merely two buckets of water from the sole local well. This is not just Anita’s story but all the women in the hamlet, who are so desperate for water that they even go the extent of spending their nights near the well to get a chance to fetch water as early as possible.

The well is so dried up that one can actually see the rocky bottom. Struggling to provide water to its family, the womenfolk could be seen scratching the bottom of the well hoping not to miss out on even a droplet of water. The water is so murky that they end up sieving it through a piece of cloth. But whether this water is at all fit for human consumption, no one knows.

While recollecting her memories of the hamlet, Padma Khoda, a 50-year-old woman with a family of five who was born in the same hamlet lamented, “Earlier, the situation was different. The water crisis has emerged only over the past few years. Since I am the only woman in my family I have to do all the hard work. We have no option but to sustain on the same well.” Speaking about the proposed water pipelines passing through the hamlet, she said, “Hopefully, the pipelines would bring us sufficient water.”

After inordinately delaying the water pipeline project for as many as 10 years, the construction of the pipelines will finally begin in the census town, which has been the constituency of former Shiv Sena MLA Daulat Daroda. The project is likely to centrally connect the villages and provide some respite to its thirsty villagers.

Photo: Shruti G

“It is true that the water pipeline was sanctioned in 2008 but due to the administrative apathy it was not implemented. But, now we have begun pressurizing the local administration, and have also lodged a police complaint. The local administration was made to pay fine for the delay after which they have started installing it,” Bhau Daroda, one of the Gram Panchayat member of Kothare hamlet said while monitoring the work.

Shahapur, is not a naturally parched land. In fact, the tehsil houses four major dams of Maharashtra – Bhatsa, Tansa, Vaitarna and Middle Vaitarna, which supply water to the entire city of Mumbai. But sadly its locals are left high and dry. In complete contrast to the sad state of affairs in the villages, buildings and apartments are constantly coming up in Mumbai , with the builders even going to the extent of promising personal swimming pool with each flat apart from 24/7 water supply. Currently, the dams and lakes in Maharashtra are supplying 3.4 billion litres of water to Mumbai every day. However, almost all the tribal hamlets in Shahapur tehsil, a major source of water to Mumbai, is going dry in the beginning of February. And the water supply schemes either don’t work at all or make water available once in 15 days in the villages.

Not an isolated incident

The water scarcity at Kothare hamlet is not a one off case, Sakhadbav is another big village with 225 households in the Shahapur comprising of a good mix of Kunbi, Dalit, Tribal and Upper Caste communities.

There are two wells in the village, both of which are non-functional. It has only one primary health care centre which has a borewell supplying water to more than half of the village. But, water doesn’t come so easily to the villagers, as the borewell works for 4-5 hours a day. “We spend entire day either in queue or fighting with neighbours for water. Our children go hungry sometimes as our priority is to fetch water. For washing clothes, we have to walk 4-5 kilometers every 8-15 days. There are toilets in the village but they are closed due to lack of water. People still prefer open space for defecation, as there is no water in the toilets,” said Kirti Parab while requesting other females to allow her at least a bucket of water to drink.

A common sight throughout the water scarce hamlets of Shahapur are women with buckets hanging on their waist and hands queuing up to a water source. Fetching water from far flung areas seems to have become the primary responsibility of the women of the villages, apart from taking care of other household chores. The men of the villages are mostly engaged in paddy farming and remain unemployed for more than half of the year, as paddy cultivation takes place for only four months in a year.

Photo: Shruti G

While talking about her struggle to make ends meet, Ranjana Gorle another woman from the same village said “My husband does not earn much. We have a family of five. Half of my day goes wasted into fetching water, as only two are allowed per house at a time, so I have to stand in the queue twice a day to get water. When do I earn money to support my family?”

The immediate village to Sakhadbav is Ranavir, a hamlet with 85 houses, and the picture is no different there. While the womenfolk were busy filling up water, a group of young boys were busy having a fun time. When enquired as to why aren’t they helping the women standing in the queue for hours, Manoj Bhagat, one of the boys from the group chuckled, “We don’t do this kind of work. Only women are supposed to do it.” A reply such as this reflects how deep patriarchy has rooted itself in the hamlets.

Water woes are not new to Maharashtra. Marathwada, part of western Maharashtra and Vidarbha face drought and the worst affected have been the rural areas around Mumbai. With the BJP led state government announcing an ambitious Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Expressway, which would pass through the tribal hamlets, is said to solve the problems of these areas. But, the tribals on the other hand are not so optimistic about the much-hyped project.

Official figures speak for themselves

When one goes through the official website of the State’s water supply department, there appears a long list of schemes meant to provide clean potable water, for conservation of water, repairing of pipelines and rejuvenation of exhausted water sources, apart from a host of other schemes. The budgetary allocation for Water Supply and Sanitation for the year 2018-19 is of Rs 6,365 crore. But when it comes to implementation of the schemes, the picture is not so rosy. As per the state finance department, in 2017-18, the water supply department made a financial provision of Rs 4,303 crore but spent only 35 per cent on the schemes. The latest Economic Survey of Maharashtra for the year 2017-18 has revealed how funds meant for water schemes are being reduced every year despite increasing water crisis at the ground level.

The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), an important Government of India initiative for ensuring safe and adequate drinking water in rural areas, is being implemented in Maharashtra since 2009. However, the funds are being systematically reduced over the past three years.

Year

No of villages/wadis tackled

No of villages/wadis tackled

Expenditure in Rs crore

 

Target

Achievements

 

2015-16

1611

1566

1068

2016-17

1899

1270

834

2017-18
(Till January)

978

265

330

Apart from the overall reduction in the NRDWP funding pattern, drinking water sustainability, one of the most important components of the rural drinking water programme also display a substantial curtailment of funds. The reduction in funding is also leading to a consequent dip in the achievement target as well.

Year

Villages/Habitation (No.)

Completed measures (No.)

Expenditure (Rs in crore)

2015-16

640

2686

18.16

2016-17

802

4396

8.91

2017-18
(Till January)

229

843

2.76

A closer look at the slew of measures taken by the state government to resolve the water scarcity issue including temporary piped water supply, rejuvenation of bore well and other water sources, water supply by tankers, and comparing them over a period of two years (2015-16 and 2016-17), reveals that the target of work is witnessing a downward trend.

Measures/Works

Villages

Villages

Wadis

Wadis

 

Oct 2015-July 2016

Oct 2016-June 2017

Oct 2015-July 2016

Oct 2016-June 2017

New Borewells

3446

2482

2284

1570

Temporary piped water supply- special repairs

1948

1250

177

142

Special repairs of borewell

1869

1215

1161

446

Temporary supplementary pipe connection

493

315

20

37

Water supply by tankers/bullock carts

5935

3791

6679

4549

Requisition of private wells

8894

6848

1651

1897

Deepening/mud cleaning

323

267

126

88

Construction of budkies

2

3

0

0

Considering the severity of the situation, Government of Maharashtra started implementing the Mukhyamantri Rural Drinking Water Programme (MRDW) from 2016-17 for a period of four years. The scheme was implemented with a provision of Rs 2531 crore to improve water supply facilities and provide clean and sufficient drinking water. In all 520 water supply schemes with an outlay of Rs 1175 crore along with revival of 18 regional water supply schemes worth Rs 24.73 crore have been approved till date.

Photo: Shruti G

Performance of Mukhyamantri Rural Drinking Water Programme

Particulars

2016-17 (Rs in Crore)

2017-18 (Rs in Crore) Till January

New Water Supply Schemes

   

Fund Disbursed

247.31

70.32

Expenditure

75.93

3.57

Rejuvenation of non functional regional water supply schemes

   

Fund Disbursed

32.69

Expenditure

3.92

Maintenance and repairs of regional rural water supply scheme

   

Fund Disbursed

80.00

45.00

Expenditure

8.92

Underlying problems

While terming the water scarcity in tribal areas of Thane as a “grave problem”, Prof. Pradeep Purandare, a water expert from Maharashtra and retired Associate Professor from Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad objected the government’s efforts to divert water of Bhavali dam in Nashik to the tribal area. “Bham, Bhavali, Bukane dams supply water to water starved Marathwada region. But diverting Bhavali dam’s water for Shahapur would add to the woes of Marathwada. We are not against giving water to tribals because they are also in dire need. But Marathwada is facing equal water problem,” Prof. Purandare said.

Speaking about the unfair division of water between the maximum city and the surrounding tribal areas, Prof. Purandare suggested, “There has to be some cap on the water supplied to Mumbai. At present, water supply in rural areas is 40 litre per day per capita. But for Mumbai it is 135 litre per day per capita or even more.” He also highlighted that, “There is no recycling or reuse of water in Mumbai. The city’s need is ever growing. The government and administration alike are not paying attention to water leakage in the pipelines supplying water to Mumbai”. He further suggested, “The city can also try using sea water.”

Ashwini Kulkarni of Pragati Abhiyan, an organization working in the tribal belt of Nashik for over 20 years, said, “The tribals of Nashik and Shahapur lost their lands to dams but ended up facing acute water scarcity, water is plenty at the dams but it is beyond their reach. There are no canals built for them.” While talking possible solution to the problem, Ms. Kulkarni added, “Contour mapping techniques would go a long way in understanding the underground water flow”.

Criticizing the Government over reckless construction of dams in the tribal belt, Prakash Khodka who has been working in the Shahapur area for over 10 years, pointed out, “The government should taken the local tribals into account while constructing the dams, and should have made provisions for supplying water to them as well. But, its priority lies with the city dwellers.”

The articficial water shortage created at Shahapur is a classic example of how reckless development ends up becoming a bane instead of serving as a boon. A town which is a source of water to a mega city such as Mumbai is struggling to meet even the basic water requirements of its own inhabitants. The problem however, can be resolved but only requires the political will and the need to adapt sustainable ways of solving the crisis.

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