Abadganj. The name has come to haunt this town in Palamu district.
Years of drought and the local administration’s failure to provide tap water has forced many of its 1,500 residents to flee their homes during the summer and take refuge where water is available.
The trend started a couple of years ago, when local residents began pasting for-sale notices outside their homes and properties. Initially, they got a few customers, but as news of the area being water-starved spread, they stopped getting enquiries.
Now, they have started abandoning their houses and renting homes in localities where water is available. Dozens have left for other towns, permanently locking their homes.
Palamu falls in a rain-shadow area and has witnessed five droughts in the past six years. The district has seen interventions by three prime ministers — Indira Gandhi (1982), PV Narsimha Rao (1992) and Narendra Modi (2014). All of them promised to make the region drought-free.
“This area has witnessed three kinds of migration,” said Lilly Mishra, a local resident. “At least nine families have sold their homes in the last two years and left. At least 20% of the remaining 150 families have left to stay with relatives. Another 20% have taken homes on rent in other localities where water is available.”
BJP leader Durga Johari said selling homes is painful but there is no way out.
“You either buy water for everyday use or move out. Unfortunately, there is no buyer to purchase property in dry zones.”
Even groundwater cannot help Abadganj. The water table depleted years ago following diminishing rainfall over the years.
Those still in the locality buy 20 litres of water for Rs 15 from local vendors, who extract it from other areas to make up for shortfall in municipality supply.
The crisis is consistent across Palamu, affecting its 40 lakh population. Locals say the crisis has reached a tipping point where there is no water to even extinguish the fires at funeral pyres. Kishore Pandey, a social worker, called in earthmovers on Monday to dig pits along the Koel River bed so that mourners can get water for the last rites.
While reviewing water crisis in the area last month, state parliamentary affairs and food processing minister Saryu Rai appealed to the local population to work towards promoting water harvesting as it is the only way to check droughts.