Almost all residents of Karjavant village of Kawant taluka in Chhota Udepur collected near the huge yellow borewell drilling machine on Monday in anticipation of water. The village mandal had collected Rs 18,000 to sink the bore 300 feet deeper after their handpumps went dry. But their hopes were shattered as the machine failed to find any water even at a depth of 600 feet.
The government provides grants only to sink 300 feet deep, but with the water table depleting, the village has been thirsty and decided to deepen the bore by collecting funds. With a population of 2,500, the village has hundreds of handpumps and an equal number of borewells dug up over the years. Vikesh Rathwa, a villager, says, “The handpumps are dry and the ground water table has declined below 500 feet.
We are forced to gather money, at times even through loans, to drill borewells for sustenance.”
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With the monsoon at least six weeks away and drying local water resources — three check dams of the district — Chhota Udepur is turning to borewells to combat water crisis. Heavily dependent on ground water for sustenance, villagers have begun gathering committee funds to dig their own bore, in the absence of government policy for grant to dig below 300 feet for ground water.
As the tribal-dominated district faces unprecedented water shortage, the district administration has requested the state government to extend help to prevent panic in the region. Apart from requesting permissions for more handpumps, the District Collector has also sought the government’s go-ahead to provide grant to dig 400 feet for underground water, as against the existing 300 feet. Currently, panicked villagers have begun gathering funds to dig their own borewells, deeper, in search of water. The village panchayat controls some borewells until the water table rises while others are pressed into action. But with each passing day, most borewells yield less and less water. Suresh Rathwa, former sarpanch of Karajvant village, says, “Each time we dig 250-300 feet deeper, we have to shell out Rs 18,000 from our own village committee funds as the government grant is available only for 300 feet.”
It’s the same story in the adjoining Dungar village, about two kilometres away, where children have been assigned the work of fetching water from the deep, almost dry wells as part of their summer breaks from schools. At the common wells, surrounded by women and children, there is commotion and contest to pull out water first.
About 12 km away is Rami check dam at Kawant, which has little water that suffices for about a dozen surrounding villages, but Chhota Udepur dam and Sukhi dam in Pavi Jetpur have dried up. There is no other source of water for the district apart from ground water.
The district administration is aware that the water table has depleted, resulting in much hardship for locals. District Collector Jenu Devan says that the administration is receiving complaints of failing handpumps on a daily basis.
“The ground reality is that the water level has depleted and the handpumps are not able to draw water from below 300 feet. If the water is deeper than that level, it needs a deep bore motor. We receive complaints from villages that the handpumps are not working, but the truth is that there is nothing wrong with the pumps. Even if we send repairing teams, the water will not flow as the level has declined,” Devan says, admitting that the administration has sought permission from the state government to supply grant for drilling deep borewells.
Devan says, “Since the water is drying up, they have demanded grant for digging deeper than 300 feet. We have requested the state government. We have 18,000 handpumps in the district and have permission for 1,000 more. Out of these, digging is underway for 250 handpumps and we are seeking permission for 3,000 more.”
Devan says that despite having about 1000-mm rainfall in the district — a good average as compared to other districts in central Gujarat — lack of water conservation is one of the main reasons for the crisis. “We have been trying to implement projects to sensitise the villagers about conserving the rain water as the district receives a good average of rainfall, but all the water flows away into the Orsang river. There has been little ground support for the project.” Now, the back-up plan is water tankers. “We are watching the situation closely as the monsoon is at least six weeks away and we cannot predict its level. We will start supplying water through tankers in case the ground water level falls further,” he says.