Million homes in parched Bundelkhand to get tap water by year-end, officials say
Ram Chandra, a 70-year-old villager from Mahoba in Bundelkhand -- a rocky, impoverished region dividing Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is anxiously biding his time to see a dream become reality by the year-end: a water source at his doorstep.
“Just last week officials told us we can hope to get water right in our homes by December. We have been waiting all our lives for water,” Chandra said over the phone.
Water availability is scarce in at least one half of the country, but perennially drought-hit Bundelkhand’s crisis has been severe enough to force waves of outmigration from the area over the past decade.
Several dozens engineering teams in the parched region, spanning 69,000 sqkm, are busy laying pipes, finishing construction of overhead tanks, levelling high grounds and sealing off deep groundwater holes. This is part of a massive project under the flagship Jal Jeevan Mission, a national programme to connect every household in rural India with functioning drinking water taps by 2024.
The Bundelkhand leg of the Jal Jeevan Mission comprises 467 piped drinking water schemes under 32 projects. Of these, 43 are surface water-based schemes and 424 are ground water-based.
Authorities overseeing the water mission said nearly 1.11 million rural homes covering a population of 7.2 million people will have access to 24/7 treated tap water supply by 2021-end.
Nature has been unkind to Bundelkhand region, spread over 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It had faced a non-stop seven-year drought between 2003 and 2010.
“Nearly 2 million (20 lakh) people are gone. They work as labourers in other states. What to do? How can one live without water?” said Diwan Parihar, a local social activist.
These current scope of the water projects will benefit 2,608 gram panchayats (village-level administrative units) in seven districts of Bundelkhand.
Nearly 820 million people in 12 major river basins of the country face “high to extreme” water stress. Getting to a water source is a long haul in rural India. According to a National Sample Survey Organisation survey, in Jharkhand, it takes women 40 minutes one way, without taking into account the waiting time. In Bihar, it’s 33 minutes. Rural Maharashtra clocks an average of 24 minutes.
The piped water mission, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, aims to change this drudgery. The programme has entered a critical stage, as officials race to meet the deadline amid the disruptive Covid pandemic.
Work on Bundelkhand’s water supply network, officials said, carried on despite the pandemic.
“The UP government has completed about 80% work of water treatment plants in various districts of Bundelkhand, including Jhansi and Mahoba. The construction work is almost complete in more than 50% of our plants,” said principal secretary Anurag Srivastava in a text message.