At the gateway to Idrispur village off the Baghpat-Muzaffarnagar highway in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, a hand pump on a muddy road lies parched and covered in rust. The words, “Pani peene yogya nahin hai (water not fit for drinking)” in red letters screams out from across the hand pump.
As we drive into the village, residents shout in unison,” There is no water here. Tell the chief minister.”
The pump is one of 25 in the village -- the highest in the district – that were sealed in December by the district administration.
In villages spread across the Baghpat district in western Uttar Pradesh, clean drinking water is a luxury. But nobody talks about the water woes or the fact that some travel more than four kilometres on days, just to get a glass of water.
Following a large number of cancer cases, in September last year, the National Green Tribunal ordered the sealing or removal of hand pumps gurgling out toxic water in the villages of Baghpat that lies across Krishna river -- a tributary of the Yamuna. Out of the water samples from 413 hand pumps in Baghpat region, 384 were found spewing toxic water.
Providing clean drinking water is one of the seven poll promises chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has made in this year’s election manifesto.
A white water tank placed by the government, which is supposed to draw drinking water from 300 feet under the ground, much deeper than a hand pump, stands in the middle of the village. One tank was supposed to serve a population of around 4,000 people but that too has developed a glitch.
“The government’s tank is not working for the last few days. Our villagers are travelling over 3-4 kilometers to get water. This is a village. We need water to clean our houses, and to bathe our animals. The hand pumps are sealed and there is no source of water for us. It is a huge problem,” says sarpanch Ram Nath Singh.
With no option, many residents here have come together, pooled in money and have ‘fixed’ one sealed hand pump. “At least there was arsenic water before. Now there is not water. Some of us don’t mind drinking this water. We will fight back if they come and remove these pumps,” a resident says.
Less than 3 km away lies Gangnoli village, a tiny hamlet that made headlines last year when a local newspaper reported that hundreds in this village had died of cancer over the years.
The waterbed here too has become toxic because waste from the nearby sugarcane industries is deposited into the Krishna nearby. Locals said around 23 hand pumps were sealed here.
“Nobody talks about clean drinking water here. Ours is the only region in the state, where there is no clean drinking water. My mother died of cancer. My aunt next door too had cancer,” said Sanjiv Rathi, a villager.
Gangnoli residents say no politician has an answer to their water woes.
RO purifiers will help get votes
“All parties talk about power, development and helping increase price of our sugarcane produce but nobody talks about water. The CM held a rally in Baghpat and said he would provide clean drinking water but he did not explain how he was going to do it. We were seated far away from him in the crowd and could not say anything,” says Rambir Singh Rathi, a resident.
Forced to reinstate sealed and uprooted hand pumps, the wealthier residents here have also bought RO (reverse osmosis) water purifiers. In Gangnoli, where locals say the water turns red if kept for several hours, the water purifier is a marker of celebrity status. Only the rich have it.
A local shopkeeper in Baraut said that over the last two months he has sold over 40 water purifiers. Other shopkeepers in the local town have also started stocking similar purifiers.
“The RO machine is our only hope. Instead of smart phones, the CM should promise free water purifiers here. This is the only need and the surest way to get votes,” says Deepa Devi, who recently bought a purifier.