120 kms from Mumbai: Water dries up, anger boils over | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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120 kms from Mumbai: Water dries up, anger boils over

ByRaju Shinde
Dec 30, 2023 07:46 AM IST

Their situation has become even more acute this year, as the state received poor rainfall, leading to a depletion of existing water reserves in the four wells – two have completely dried up while the other two, said villagers, have enough water to last barely 15 d

SHAHAPUR: Citizens from three drought hit villages of Shahapur taluka -- Fugale, Aghanwadi and Varaswadi -- in Thane district have decided to boycott the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections next year. It is their mark of protest against the government that has overlooked the daily struggles of around 1200 villagers for drinking water over the last 50 years.

In the month of December there is a water crisis in the Fughale village in Shahpur Tehsil. Village women are spending whole nights in the forest to collect the water from natural sources.Thane, India Dec 29,2023. (Photo by Raju Shinde/HT Photo)
In the month of December there is a water crisis in the Fughale village in Shahpur Tehsil. Village women are spending whole nights in the forest to collect the water from natural sources.Thane, India Dec 29,2023. (Photo by Raju Shinde/HT Photo)

Villagers of Fugale, located 120 kilometers from Mumbai, expressed their resentment on December 22 by stopping officials from the local panchayat from entering their village. The officers were here as a part of the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra to raise awareness about various schemes launched by the government to benefit citizens of rural India.

“We will not allow any election campaign in our villages till the time the government resolves the water crisis in our villages,” said Jeeva Bhala, sarpanch of Fugale. “We cannot live on false promises given by politicians anymore.”

Their situation has become even more acute this year, as the state received poor rainfall, leading to a depletion of existing water reserves in the four wells – two have completely dried up while the other two, said villagers, have enough water to last barely 15 days.

Bhala said every year after the villages face drought, the government assures them of tap water soon. “We have been hearing about it since the last 20 years. It becomes a distant dream with every passing year. Our struggle for drinking water has only worsened,” he said.

“Only two of the four wells have residual reserve which will see us through maybe two weeks. We face this acute water crisis between March and April every year, but this year we are facing it way ahead of time. We are not sure how we will survive till the next monsoon,” said Bhala.

Forest walk

Local authorities provide tanker water to the villages in the summer months when the water crisis is grave, but given its early start this year, villagers are left to their own devices to arrange for potable water to meet their everyday needs.

After the family finishes its dinner and completes household chores thereafter, Shammibai Bhala, 30, and her husband Nivruti, 35, walk to a nearby forest, a kilometre away from the village, where the villagers have found a water source.

The family of 15 requires close to 25 litres of water each day. “We leave our house at 8pm. There is a crevice between the rocks where all the villagers gather in the night. They form a queue and wait for the water to flow late in the night, which stays on till noon the next day,” said Shammibai. No one knows the source of the water that fills this nook every night.

This reporter accompanied Shammibai and other villagers on their nocturnal walk on Thursday. The villagers walked through a dark and narrow pathway in the jungle, guided by a torchlight. On this night, Shammibai and her husband waited in queue with three metal pots, which they were able to fill by noon when their turn came. It took them two hours to fill the pots.

“This has been our routine since December 1. We have hardly slept for an hour or two. We sleep here in the jungle waiting for our turn. I make at least three rounds to the stream to get 25 litres of water which is used for drinking and cooking,” said Shammibai.

Standing next to Shammibai, Ranjana Pokada, 25, said she is fortunate that her family of 20 has five women, who work in shifts at the stream to fill water. Most men stay away from this routine, as they have to be up early to work on their farms.

“By the time I finish filling the two pots, my sister-in-law arrives, followed by other women in the family. It takes at least an hour to get the required fill. We fear that very soon, even this stream will dry up and we will have to hunt for another one, which may be a few kilometres away. Who knows, we may even have to cross a mountain and walk for two hours to Bhavali Dam (an earthfill dam on Bham river, near Igatpuri) to get water,” she said.

In their effort to adjust to the present crisis, villagers have stopped daily baths and wash their clothes only occasionally in a lake close by. “The lake water is non-potable. We use it for washing clothes and cattle. We bathe only when we come across a stream on our way to the farms,” said Mirabai Telang, 30.

Health alert

The present arrangement of walking through the forest for drinking water may not be the best option after all, as many villagers have now fallen prey to stomach bugs.

“Almost every second person in the village is down with stomach infection or jaundice. We use chulha for cooking. After the long walk and wait, we do not get enough time to boil the water. We only strain it through a cloth. Doctors have pointed to this as the reason for the stomach infections we are having,” said Suman Bhala, 44, who is recuperating from an infection and fever.

Villagers said in the first week of December, Kapil Patil, Union minister of State Panchayati Raj, supplied two water tankers. But that was not enough to meet their needs.

When Thane collector Ashok Shingare was made aware of the reality of the villages, he said, “We are aware of the drinking water scarcity by three villages in that area in Shahapur. I have instructed my officers to first see if they can tap a potable water source in the village. If that is not found, there will be no option but to start water tanker services to the area.”

Shingare added that it was unusual for the scarcity to set in so early. “Normally water tankers are requisitioned towards the end of January. It is possible that withdrawal of south west monsoon earlier than usual this year has led to this plight. We are monitoring the situation and will take the necessary steps to ensure that villages get potable water.”

(With input by Satish Nandgaonkar

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