On May 10, Diwali Katariya (80) breathed her last at Mota Agariya, a small village in Rajula taluka of Amreli district. While family members were preparing for her cremation, village elders had other worry — where around 200 mourners would take the ritual bath in view of dry wells and tubewells.
After cremating Katariya, the mourners a gathered around a half-filled havada (a public tank of water for cattle) in the village. The villagers, as a matter of practice, never bathe in the havada as its water is reserved for cattle. But left with no option, the pallbearers took a dip in the tank, while others only washed their hands and feet as there was not enough water for the rest to take a bath.
“We had to save water for the cattle. So, I washed my face and fingers and splashed water on my headgear. According to our religious belief, a mourner can come home only after taking a bath… but, I had no option. I returned home and took a bath,” said Dula Baldaniya (52), a farmer.
Villagers said they have been facing shortage of drinking water since February. In fact, they had blocked Amreli-Rajula highway on Aprli 15 demanding water from Narmada project through pipeline, and cleared the blockade only after authorities assured them of meeting their demand in a month.
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The village with around 1,800 residents has tubewells — the shallowest 450-foot deep and the deepest 1005-foot — but all have run dry.
Two wells in the village, around 100-foot deep, have also run dry. The villagers get 17,000 litre water through five tankers every day. The tankers bring water from Hindola village near Rajula town.
Sarpanch Hathi Khuman said the Water And Sanitation Management Organisation, a state government body, laid a water distribution network at Mota Agariya. “But, we have never been able to get pipe water to houses as there is no water,” said the sarpanch.
There have been individual efforts for managing water, with limited success. Ranchhod Baldaniya, a farmer with a 25 bigha farm, drilled four tubewells at his home, with an average depth of 200-foot, but none of those has water during the summer. He also has four more tubewells at his farm with an average depth of 800-foot. Only one has some water left.
Baldaniya’s nine-member family owns seven buffaloes, and water from tanker supply is not sufficient. Baldaniya’s cousin Jiva Katariya (60) does a trip on his bullock cart everyday and carries 500 litre water from their farm in large containers. “I have to stay awake several nights as we get power supply for agriculture during those hours only. Since, water is very little in the tubewell, I start and stop motor-pump dozens of times before the tank and the barrel are filled,” said Jiva.
Also for women, summer is not an easy time. “Yesterday, I returned empty handed as the tanker got exhausted before my turn. May is the month when my grandchildren visit us. But, they have not come this year knowing the situation here,” said Naniben Bagda, a middleage Dalit woman.
There is severe water scarcity in Rajula, Jafrabad and Khambha talukas of Armeli despite the district receiving average 24 inch rainfall every year. In fact the district had recorded 128 per cent rainfall last monsoon.
Rajula taluka had registered 33 inch rainfall or 138 per cent of the average. Farmers of the village cultivate cotton and groundnut, but groundwater resources were exhausted by the end of winter, said the sarpanch. “Topography of our village is undulating and rain water runs off. We don’t have any local dam,” said Khuman, adding that the villagers have not thought about harvesting rain water.