Thanks to leaders, lack of drinking water is not an issue in these elections | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Thanks to leaders, lack of drinking water is not an issue in these elections

Lack of drinking water across the 50 districts of Uttar Pradesh should have been an issue in these assembly elections. But our politicians are always too busy muddying the waters

opinion Updated: Feb 26, 2017 20:46 IST
Bundelkhand

A priest carrying water on his makeshift cart about 50 km from Orchha in drought-hit Bundelkhand, March 17, 2016. As many as 308 districts in the country are grappling with the shortage of drinking water. (Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo)

A few days ago, we were standing at the origin of the Mandakini river near Chitrakoot. The scene before us was enchanting. A stream of water was emerging from the foothills of the Vindhyas and going down a naturally formed slope. For thousands of years this stream has kept this sacred river in Bundelkhand full of water. For the devout, it is a symbol of Goddess Anusuiya and for the locals, their lifeline.

But now the Mandakini is getting depleted. You get evidence of this as soon as you reach Chitrakoot. The monks here tell you it is a meeting point for the river Payaswini and the lost river Saraswati. When we ask where Payaswini is, we are directed to a small drain. The Payaswini turning into a sad drain is not a good sign for the Mandakini because traditionally it is the tributaries that have strengthened the larger rivers. The question is, will these two rivers meet the same fate as the Saraswati? Popular folklore in Allahabad describes the lost Saraswati as an integral part of the iconic Triveni. For hundreds of years, the Saraswati has been revered in Hindu faith. Why don’t all those people who claim to be religious think about the reasons that led to the disappearance of the Saraswati? Today, the Payaswini is on its last legs. More than 10 rivers in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region have vanished into the folds of history mainly owing to illegal mining.

Will the Ganga and the Yamuna meet the same fate?

Read: Saving the Ganga is not an election issue in UP

I was born in Benares and grew up in Mirzapur and Allahabad. Like Jawaharlal Nehru, I too, have seen the Ganga and the Yamuna in their diverse avatars. Today, whenever I cross the Yamuna bridge in Mathura and look below, I let out a sigh. The Yamuna, which inspired Krishna’s Braj, has now become a thin stream of polluted water. The Chambal in Etawah and the Betwa in Hamirpur merge with it leading to its reincarnation. Similarly, if you look at the Ganga before the Sangam in Allahabad, you will experience similar despair. That’s the reason during a field trip to cover the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand elections I met people lamenting the shortage of drinking water. Entire villages are emptying out owing to the shortage of drinking water and crops drying up. On top of it no avenues for employment are being created.

The conditions are so distressing that in response to a question in 2016, the then minister of state for drinking water and sanitation Ram Kripal Yadav said as many as 308 districts in the country are grappling with the shortage of drinking water. This includes 50 districts in Uttar Pradesh alone. Replying to an RTI application, the Uttar Pradesh government had admitted four years ago that 4,020 sources of water have dried up over one decade. In the Banda district itself, 35% of the 33,000 hand-pumps have gone dry.

Read: Parched Bundelkhand lives on muddy water

A folk song in Bundelkhand’s Patha area captures this despair well: Gagari na phoote chahe khasam mar jaye (The pitcher of water shouldn’t break even if the husband dies).

Similarly, in Uttarakhand, according a report by an NGO in June 2016, 12,000 of the 60,000 sources of water have dried up. A former chief secretary of the state says lack of drinking water is the biggest reason behind the mass migration from the state.

Now let us shift focus to Manipur, another state located in the lap of the Himalayas. It receives an annual rainfall of 1,500 mm but there is no infrastructure that has been created for its conservation or distribution. Most people here depend on the water mafia. As a result, they have to shell out Rs 200 for 1,000 litres of water. Punjab is a little better on this count. Thanks to the Satluj-Yamuna canal, there was no needless debate over water during the election campaign. None of the political parties addressed the issue with any seriousness in the other four states.

You can witness this poignant situation everywhere, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Is it a sign of the downfall of our civilisation? At one time, the Sumeru and Indus Valley civilisations ruled the roost. Now that is a distant memory. In these high-tech days, shouldn’t the governing classes be paying attention to this? As soon as he assumed power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken about interlinking of rivers but no effective steps have been taken in that direction.

These elections were an opportunity for every political party to present their agenda on water, which is so essential to everybody’s life. Instead slogans that threw mud in the already muddy waters of our politics were flung around. An old Indian adage goes: pani pila-pila kar mara (Killing you after making you drink water). Our leaders are killing us without even giving us water.

Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan

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