Just outside the waterworks at Chahal village on the Faridkot road, 3 km from here, poor women continue to fetch pails of water from the lone source — a hand pump. They have a reason to drink unsafe water: The waterworks inside the boundary wall is shut for the past one year.
The subsoil water in village is so unfit that it has jammed even the reverse-osmosis (RO) purification systems in all households at Chahal. “We have uninstalled our RO system,” said a villager. “Impurities in the groundwater drawn from the hand pump had choked it.”
The groundwater is unsuitable for even washing. It neither cleans the body nor rinses soap from the hair. The villagers who continued to bathe with it developed hair fall. However, it’s the only water for cattle.
A less frequent source of water for washing, bathing and all other needs except intake is a canal, and that water is stored in big tanks. The lone hand pump near the waterworks gives villagers the best drinking water under the circumstances.
The lone community RO system in the village is run on water from 800 feet deep. Why the waterworks is shut—the reason is politics and groupism. The nightmare began about 6 months ago, when Ramsaran Singh, sarpanch’s husband, installed an electric motor to pump dirty water out of the village pond. It ran on stolen electricity.
The electricity department raided the village and imposed a fine about Rs 90,000 on the panchayat for stealing energy from the network feeding the waterworks. They supply to the waterworks was shut. Until the amount is recovered, it won’t be resumed.
Besides, another motor pumping water to the supply tanks was permitted for 7.5-kilovolt-ampere load, while its working load was 15 kva. The panchayat was asked to submit more than Rs 1 lakh for that as fine. The water-supply bill for all users was also pending since December 2009. It is about Rs 1.70 lakh.
The villagers have pooled about Rs 1.10 lakh by collecting a fee of Rs 500 on each tap connection. It remains short of the required amount. The electricity department fine of more than Rs 1 lakh is also pending in the name of the panchayat.
“The sarpanch alone stole electricity for running a motor to clean the pond, so why should the entire village be asked to pay,” said a villager from the opposing faction. “The fine belongs to the sarpanch, not the panchayat.”
“I worked in good public faith,” said Ramsaran Singh, husband of sarpanch Parmjeet Kaur. “The pond has no outlet, so pumping was the only way of taking out the dirty, stinking water. My rival faction was behind the raid, which brought the fine on the entire village. Even the panchayat is not rich enough to foot the bill, so how can I bear it alone.”
People wanted him to pay the fine from a welfare grant for some other purpose, said Ramsaran Singh. “I have no right to misuse the money,” he added. “My rivals are free to request the deputy commissioner to allow me to change the purpose.”
It was the other group that had asked the people not to pay water charges to the panchayat on the ground that he had usurped public money, said Ramsaran Singh. “I reminded them of receipts issued for every bill payment,” he added. “I like working for the village. Some people even broke the windowpanes of the RO-system building and the boundary wall of the crematorium that I got built anew based on a foreign design.”
As politics continues, the lone hand pump outside the waterworks is tiring. The harder the women press its handle, the less water it pumps out.
Deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagat is aware of the problem. “I have told the executive engineer of the electricity department to recover the fine from the man who ran the motor illegally, so that water supply may resume,” he said.
“I am open to changing the purpose of the grant but only for development work and not paying the electricity fine, for the money comes from the rural development coffer. If my earlier directions were ignored, I will look into it.”