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Water woes create no ripples in netas’ stream of consciousness

Shankergarh in Allahabad’s Bara assembly constituency has two big problems: Mass migration and frequent deaths due to silicosis and consumption of silica-laced water as the area is a hub of silica sand mining

lucknow Updated: Feb 22, 2017 13:41 IST
Kenneth John
A resident of Cheepiya village showing the dilapidated condition of his house.
A resident of Cheepiya village showing the dilapidated condition of his house.(Sheeraz Rizvi/ HT Photo)

A telling message greets visitors at the nondescript Cheepiya village where acute water scarcity has persisted for many decades, triggering mass migration.

The village is around 45 kilometres from Allahabad city in Shankergarh development block of Bara assembly constituency which goes to poll in the fourth phase of the seven-phase Uttar Pradesh assembly election on February 23.

A faded message on the wall of a hut reads: ‘Gaon chodhkar tum mat jana, guarantee ka hai naya zamana (Don’t leave the village, a new era is guaranteed).’

The message was painted under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) a few years ago to stop migration by villagers due to acute water scarcity that the village and its nearby areas have faced for several decades.

All this while, they elected one representative after another to the state assembly every five years but their problem was not solved.

The village is located in the rocky terrain of Shankergarh. Silica sand mining is the main source of employment at Cheepiya village but a high court ban on mining in the area a few years ago forced residents, already reeling under acute water scarcity, to migrate.

Chedi Lal Kol (71), a villager, said: “I have been voting in every election but never saw an MLA or MP visit my village. We have been drinking polluted water laced with silica that even animals will not consume. Most of the hand pumps in the village are dysfunctional.”

Silicosis and consumption of polluted water have led to frequent deaths in the village.

Silicosis is a lung disorder caused by inhalation of silica particles by sand miners.

In a nutshell
  • Around 1,000 people live in Cheepiya village, in Shankergarh under Bara assembly constituency.
  • Village residents have no access to government-run health services.
  • Out of 10 hand pumps, only four are functional.
  • Ground water is available at a depth of 150 feet.
  • Around 150 people migrated to Gujarat, Pune, Mumbai in past five years.

Social activist Parmanand Shukla says the village has over two dozen widows under 35 years of age. Their husbands died due to silicosis, contracted either due to inhaling silica particles while working in silica sand mines or consuming silica-laced water. Several residents suffer from kidney failure and other disorders.

Premchand, a 35-year- old labourer and father of three children, was the latest victim. “He passed away last month due to silicosis. I had requested sitting SP MLA Ajay Kumar several times for a tube well which would have cost around Rs 15 lakh. I wrote several applications to him as well as to the district officials. But none turned up to obtain feedback from residents or did anything for addressing their plight. Now, voters in the village have planned to stop voting as they feel cheated,” he said.

Shukla said in the past five years around 150 people had migrated to Gujarat, Pune and Mumbai in search of a better life. More residents are set to leave the village anytime.

Widows like Chamela Devi (33), Ramradia (30), Meena Devi (28), Shanti Devi (31), Chandrakali (26) and several others have one question: “Will the polls bring back their husbands, father of minors. Why should we vote? They come with folded hands, bow before us for votes and vow to make our lives better. After winning, no one turns up.”

VILLAGE STATS

The village has approximately 1,000 residents with no access to government-run health services. The government health centre located around two kilometres from the village in Aam Gondar area remains locked all the year.

Around 900 people have Aadhar cards. Only four out of 10 hand pumps are functional. Nearly 300 residents are voters. The local primary school has few students. Ground water is available at a depth of 150 feet. Most parts of the village have dilapidated stone, or mud huts, unfit for even animals.

In the past 25 years, the voters of Bara assembly constituency elected three Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) MLAs, two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs besides one (sitting) Samajwadi Party MLA. But the plight of residents worsened in each term.

MLA SPEAK

Sitting SP MLA Ajay Kumar, who recently switched over to the BJP in the name of development, said the work not done so far will be completed this time. “The deaths due to silicosis or water scarcity cannot be denied. Things are pathetic in Cheepiya village and its surrounding areas. But an MLA cannot do everything. I did not visit the area but have done a lot for its residents,” he said.

Read more| No road, no vote: Villagers tell candidates