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Quenching thirst in Agra's hot streets

We can spot elderly men and women with buckets and trolleys, providing pedestrians with refreshingly cool and scented drinking water on streets of Taj Mahal city.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2007 15:32 IST

Come summer and it's easy to spot elderly men and women with buckets and trolleys, providing pedestrians with refreshingly cool and scented drinking water on the streets of the Taj Mahal city.

They are part of the Sri Nathji Nishulk Jal Sewa, a unique social service movement that has been quenching the thirst of passers-by for free for 20 years.

Its 70 odd water kiosks and scores of rickshaw trolleys in all parts of the city are a great help in the scorching summer, say people.

"One could avoid drinking the municipal water, but the Jal Sewa water which is scented and iced, is a treat," comments Surendra Sharma, an Agra resident.

The network was inaugurated by physician MC Gupta after the 1987 Chhattisgarh Express accident in Agra when many commuters got trapped inside the train and were in dire need of water. Local people decided to help by pooling in money and arranging for water.

Since then the Sri Nathji Nishulk Jal Sewa has been looking after the water needs of thousands of commoners. They draw water from borewells and mix it with the sweet-scented 'kewra'.

How is the service funded and who are the promoters?

The project's chief coordinator Bankey Lal Maheshwari says: "Sri Nath ji (god Krishna) is the president and the funds come from small and big donors who voluntarily keep sending money. Most do not even wish to be identified.

"We have no formal structure and no constitution. But our annual budget crosses a million rupees for the water service in summer and the night shelters that we put up in winter."

Rajan Kishore, a social activist associated with the movement, said: "Agra is one place in India where you don't find water being sold at road crossings like in Delhi and other big cities.

"The hygiene standards (of the Sri Nathji network) are high and the service employs more than 75 elderly men and women, mostly retired or thrown out of their homes, to run the system. Help comes from all corners. The Jal Sewa in Agra is as unique as the Taj Mahal."

Of late, many other social organisations have started opening 'piaos', or water huts, which are proving to be quite a boon for the town where governmental efforts are minimal.

The Sri Nathji Nishulk Jal Sewa has over years acquired a lot of credibility.

"Social functions, government rallies or political meetings in Agra are not complete without the mobile water trolleys of the Jal Sewa," observes Mahesh Dhakar, a resident.

Rickshaw pullers, cyclists, pedestrians, passengers in buses, cops on duty, and just everyone else who is on the road feels relieved in the presence of the Sri Nathji Jal Sewa water huts.