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Piped dreams for us

The hand pump may soon be given the final push when we get water on tap across India.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2011 01:16 IST

Lal Bahadur is dead! Long live Lal Bahadur! For those familiar with the 2010 film Peepli Live, the hand pump has special significance in the way this nation functions.

A villager in the black comedy becomes the recipient of a hand pump through a government scheme named after former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The hand pump ‘gift’ becomes ‘Lal Bahadur’ and remains in the corner of the room doing nothing.

Possibly inspired by Peepli Live, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has now decided to do away with the once ubiquitous Lal Bahadur aka hand pump.

His reasons are valid but that doesn’t mean we don’t give the contraption a fitting elegy. The giant tap with a handle design familiar to so many households for decades has not only been a source of potable water but also a contraption that doubled as an exercise machine.

In an era when the gym was associated with gymnastics and pumping iron with the Steel Authority of India, the utilitarian hand pump used the vacuum principle to draw water out of borewells.

Now Mr Ramesh wants hand pumps to be replaced by piped water. This way, borewell water containing avoidable levels of iron, chlorides and arsenic will be, well, avoided.

Under the National Drinking Water Programme, processed water will be the universal option. Hurrah! But Mr Ramesh is not some heartless Soviet-esque policy changer.

He has not suggested a countrywide removal of existing hand pumps. Only new ones won’t be installed by the central government.

And, if for some sentimental reason or owing to habit, people still want their hand pumps, they are free to ask their state governments for them.

In other words, clean, healthy water from the Centre; dodgy water if you choose from the states. Till the next push downwards then...