In parched Orissa, water is top of the mind issue

Published on Apr 15, 2004 01:26 PM IST

Forget about lofty promises of being an IT power, what matters in this election in Orissa is water, fit to drink for humans & their cattle.

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HT Image
PTI | ByIndo-Asian News Service, Kalahandi (orissa)

Forget about lofty promises of being an IT power or a developed India by 2020, in large swathes of Orissa what matters this election is water, fit to drink for humans and their cattle.

Elections and promises by politicians are of little relevance to 32-year-old Ramsingh Patra who treks at least four km every day from his village Patpani in this parched western Orissa district to bring drinking water for his family.

With water sources having dried up because of the rising temperatures, which have crossed 40 degrees Celsius in some parts, all 200 residents of the hilly Patpani village face an acute drinking water shortage.

"Most of us go to the villages located downstream," Patra told IANS.

Faced with a water problem every summer, people in this village, 100 km from the district headquarters at Bhabanipatna, have announced that would only vote for a party who can give them and their cattle water.

While Patpani has no water, about 5,000 people in a 70-village cluster in neighbouring Nuapada district have enough tube wells to meet their drinking water requirement, but it is mostly contaminated with fluoride.

"We do not have any other choice but to consume that poison," said a resident Divakar Majhi.

"Many big leaders come here every election and make promises but nothing happens," he said.

This election was no different either. No less a person than Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani came calling on the area and addressed a public meeting in Khariar Road, only 15 km away, during his India Shining campaign tour.

Speaking to crowds after entering Orissa from neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Advani said his government had implemented massive developmental works.

Of course, the villagers of Orissa tell a different tale.

Hundreds of villages in this parched stretch of Orissa, which elects 21 MPs and 147 legislators on April 20 and 26, are demanding water to drink and irrigate their lands, making it a major political issue.

The situation is bad in the towns too.

The state's second largest river Tel flows just eight km away from Titilagarh town in Bolangir district, which made headlines when the mercury touched 50.1 degrees Celsius in 2001.

But in a classic case of being so near and yet so far, there has been little effort to channelise the water and the town gets only 1.1 million litres of water a day as against its requirement of 2 million litres.

"The major problem here is water and the government has failed to deliver on that," said Congress' Ashima Mahananda who is contesting the assembly elections.

The state government had initiated a Rs.120 million water supply project for the town in the early 1990s but it is still to be completed.

Ditto with the southern town of Berhampur where people have been telling leaders to give water and then ask for votes.

Orissa's commercial city needs 25 million gallons of water every day but gets only 10 million gallons.

The state government has recently moved to implement a project to provide drinking water to this town but residents are sceptical that it will ever lead to water in their taps.

Officials claim the state has 6.5 million hectares of farmland, of which 1.8 million hectares is irrigated. Every year, an additional 50,000 hectares of land is brought under irrigation, they say.

Moreover, for people living in the hilly areas, the state government had provided for mobile tankers, officials say.

But nobody is listening. Unfortunately for politicos the elections in the state coincide with the searing summer and water is a top of the mind issue for every voter.

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