The residents of Kalyanpar, a village on Khadir Island, around 250 km east of Bhuj town in Kutch district, are a worried lot. The village has received almost no rain for the last two consecutive years and the owner of a tube well, the sole source of drinking water for the entire village, has said he would stop supplying water from August. The women of around 250 families of this village crowd an open water tank, locally called havada, throughout the day.
They first collect their daily fill of drinking water for their respective families by carrying metal pots on their heads. Later, they come to the water tank with piles of clothes to wash them and give their children a bath. Some of them take a shower there as water from the tube well — in nearby Chapar village, around one kilometre away from Kalyanpar — keeps on filling the havada. There is a ground-level cistern, but there is no water distribution network in the village which has the population of about 1,000 and more than 2,000 cattle.
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Khadir is surrounded by the Great Rann of Kutch. Dholavira, the site of ancient Harappan civilasation which has been excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India, is five kilometres away from Kalyanpar. But the residents of Kalyanpar say the tourism activity at Dholavira is yet to bear any fruit for them. Nor has the village been declared scarcity-hit by the government. Villagers say there is acute shortage of grass, but since the village has not been declared affected by scarcity, no government grass depot has been opened nearby. All this while, men of the village are busy taking care of their buffaloes and cows. They bring their cattle to the same spot for water and later take them away for grazing. Groups of youth while away their time by hanging around provision and paan shops in the village. Their common refrain: “It has not rained here sufficiently and there is little other work to do except farming.”
Factories in coastal Kutch and Bhuj are hundreds of kilometres away and, therefore, some of them occasionally cut gando baval and make charcoal, under the constant fear of being caught by forest guards. The agriculture is rain-fed with millet and jowar being the major crops.
However, the biggest worry at the back of everyone’s mind is potable water. “Private water suppliers charge Rs 500 per tanker or 1,000 litre of water. We have had to purchase three such tankers so far. But a tanker can last for a week only. Therefore, my mother and sister-in-law have to come to havada to wash their clothes and sometimes take a bath. They don’t like bathing or washing clothes in the open, but there is no way out,” says Bhagvan Ahir (20), who runs a small provision store near the public water stand.
Bhagvan complains that the water that he gets to drink from the tubewell has high fluoride content and demands that the government must do something to provide clean drinking water to the village. A middle-aged woman washing clothes at the water stand, who does not wish to be identified, says curtly, “Since my marriage in this village 25 years ago, we do not have had alternate source of water. And I don’t want to talk about this issue any further.”
Her anger is understandable, says Mohan Koli, the village sarpanch. “Our village pond has remained dry for the last seven years as we have received almost no rain all these years. Adding to the woes, the tube well drilled by Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB), which was source of drinking water for the village, saw silting last year and fell out of use. There is not a single open well in the village and the facility of irrigation is almost nil. All the villagers are farmers, but there is little farming to do due to prolonged drought-like period. As a result, parents are finding it hard to find match for their boys,” he says.
A testimony to the poor monsoon is the fact that the GWSSB had to sign a contract with Ranmal Ahir, a farmer of the village, to supply drinking water to Kalyanpar and nearby Chapar village in August, usually among the wettest months in Gujarat, last year. The contract is for an year. the GWSSB has awarded the contract to Ranmal for Rs 2.5 lakh per annum for supplying 70,000 litres of water per day to the twin villages. There are two dozen tube wells in the village. But water in only Ranmal’s three tube wells, located downstream the village pond, have low total dissoluble solids (TDS) and therefore fit for drinking. But the sarpanch is worried. Ranmal has said that he does not intend to renew his contract for the same amount of Rs 2.5 lakh after July. “While I am compassionate for my fellow residents, money also matters. If I use water from the tube well to irrigate my farm, my earning will be more than Rs 2.5 lakh per annum,” says Ranmal, whose house is one of the two dozens which has underground water tanks and, therefore, women of the family do not need to go out to fetch water.
If it does not rain by July end, the residents could be in trouble. Kalyanpar is the only village on Khadir which does not have government or panchayat-owned source of drinking water. Narmada water has reached Amrapar, the first village on the Rapar-Dholavira road connecting the island to the mainland and some 20 km away from Kalyanpar. The GWSSB is laying a network of pipeline to supply water to the remaining villages from Amrapar. “Much of the pipeline has been laid and only two kilometres is left. But it could take at least three months before we start pumping water to villages through these pipelines,” says Kanji Solanki, deputy engineer of the GWSSB, in Rapar.
However, Solanki exudes confidence that the government is prepared to meet any eventuality. “It is true that the villages on the island have not received much rainfall in the last two years. But if it does not rain on time, we shall propose to renew the contract with Ahir. If he does not agree, we shall think of drilling yet another tube well in the village,” says the engineer.