Khajuwala, a town near the India-Pakistan border in the Thar desert, has alternately tried the Congress and the BJP — with the same result. Its lack of health, education and electricity facilities has remained unaddressed in the past decade. Around 250 villages located in a 30-km radius from the Indira Gandhi canal in this town are now crying out for water.
“Leave alone safe drinking water, even canal water supply, which earlier used to be four times a month, has been reduced to twice, or sometimes once a month,” complained Dhanna Ram Nai, a farmer of the Gullu Wali panchayat. “We had turned the desert into somewhat of a fertile land. In the absence of proper water supply, it is slipping back to its past.” Ram Chander, another border area resident, said his 20-bigha land was fast drying up. With the meagre water supply from the canal, he “can barely irrigate five bigha”, he said.
Villagers living in huts have no access to potable water; they drink water from the canal. They have also dug small wells within their huts to store untreated canal water for drinking ,which is leading to numerous water-borne diseases. “We either boil the water or use cloth to filter the impurities,” said Addoo Ram, a villager.
The lone doctor posted at the constituency’s community health centre (CHC) confirmed the area to be a hyper endemic zone for malaria and water-borne diseases. Eleven sanctioned posts of doctors remain vacant in the CHC.
“The area is remote, no one is sent here,” said Kalu Ram, a local, who is in the fray as an Independent.
Water-power-school issues aside, Khajuwala suffers from another drawback. The opportunism of its politicians has left the development needs of its 166,000 voters in limbo. In 2003, Govind Ram, the present Congress nominee, had won on the BJP ticket. Last election, he contested as an Independent after being denied the BJP ticket. This time too, after having failed to get the party’s backing, he joined the Congress, which gave him the ticket, possibly because he lost the last polls by a narrow margin of 867 votes as a BJP rebel.
Ram is locked in a keenly contested election with the sitting MLA, Dr Vishwanth of the BJP. The Congress is banking on the support of more than 35,000 Muslim voters of this constituency and recently brought in Union minister Gulam Nabi Azad recently for campaigning.
Voters point to the urgent need for basic amenities. There are crises on all fronts. Electricity in border villages is non-existent; the constituency has no government-run college; in villages of over 10 panchayats, primary schools are run without teachers; for even minor diseases, patients have to be rushed to Bikaner, 120 km away; the local CHC is manned by one doctor. As the area is quake-prone, pregnant women suffer without proper medical facilities. Who will fix all these problems is the question. The people are looking forward to vote. Once again, they live in hope.