Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Water is (a)Political matter ! Is it ?

As part of the Fluoride Fellowship under the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network, one of our roles (me and colleague Shreyas) was to connect the solution providers to the places where it is required the most. This is in sync with our efforts in mitigating the effects of fluorosis, a public health issue caused by drinking water with high amounts of fluoride over extended period of time.

It was in the early 2017, when we had identified one village in Somnathpura Gram Panchayat in Bagepalli Taluk in Chikballapur District of Karnataka. The village community mostly depended upon groundwater for all uses including drinking, which has more than 2 ppm fluoride (1 ppm is the desirable BIS limit). Access to safe water was difficult and an expensive affair, as the other public borewell was yielding very less water and community had to pay 15-20 Rs for a 20 liter CAN of RO water, sold by private vendors from nearby town of Chelur.

The early symptoms of drinking water with high fluoride were seen. There were cases of dental fluorosis seen among the school going children. While interacting with the members of the School, Gram Panchayat (GP), people validated experience of joints pain many times over.

There is a 'Shudduneeru' Scheme of the Karnataka government. Under the scheme, the Rural and Panchayati Raj Dept had been installing community based water purification plants to counter the groundwater contamination. Nearly 11,306 have been sanctioned since 2013, with more than 7000 plants installed in habitations for community to use. However, the above village didn't have water filter plant till the time we visited and probed about its status.

The remote village has an undulating terrain and is more than 6 km from Somnathpura GP. Hence, we decided to connect a private water enterprise to this village, so that safe water could be accessed, at a convenient location not only to this village, but couple others on the same stretch of road. For this we had spoken to the ex-member of the GP. He said, 'kindly install the plant, I'll take care of the permissions'. He even suggested the place for the plant. We informed the Private enterprise about the same and the village was finalised for the plant.

Somnathpura Gram Panchayat

On the other hand, to get NOC and other facilities from the GP, the private water enterprise had requested the local NGO to complete the process of implementation. Couple of months later, the engineer from the private enterprise came down to the village to assess the ground scenario. He asserts the land allocated is smaller and sends his report citing issues with the water source, the land, remoteness of the village and other politics.

Amidst this, there are agitations seen in the village between two groups. One group, where the ex-member of the GP(whom we met) is leading. Other group confronting them is with the present GP member. Groups even resorting to threats of violence.

So, what could the agitation be about? after all there is a Water Filter Plant coming up, benefiting people in terms of good health.

Apparently, the ex-member of the GP is from the Congress party and the present GP member is from CPI party. Both the groups want to claim the status of bringing the 'Water Filter Plant' to the village. This was to attract/win votes in the next elections (the state elections are to be held in 2018).  All this fuss resulted in delays in getting the required permissions, delays in the implementation, thereby prolonging the wait for villagers to access safe water.

The WASH officer from the local NGO has rich experience in such matters. He requested the Somnathpura Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) to track and oversee the work the implementation along with the NGO. This has resulted in laying off tensions between the agitating groups and upheld the idea of Safe Water to people. New land has been allocated with adequate space along with the new borewell connection to it.  Members of the GP are awaiting physical work to start from the private enterprise's side, which has been communicated to them.

These are ground realities which gripped this village, I'm sure it is NOT the only village where 'water' is made a tool for political gains.

As I was traveling back to Somnathpura GP office, I noticed there was an open well at the end of the road at the lowest point. It didn't have water. Everyone was waiting for the 'Filter Plant'.

Unattended Open Well


WIPRO Sustainability Seeding Fellow

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