Every day at least three times or more during summers, Jamnaben Panda (43) and her elder daughter trek 1 km from their home in Khari faliya of Tuwa village in Panchmahals to a neighbourhood locality in search of water. Under the harsh sun, over the cracked dry land, crossing a dry farm, a road and an unmanned railway line, they reach the only source of water for around 60 families in two localities of Tuwa village combined — a well. Jamnaben’s family is one among 20 households in Khari faliya of Tuwa that have no source of potable water in their neighbourhood.
Tuwa in Godhra tehsil attracts around 100 tourists every day, as it is the only place in Central Gujarat with a hot water spring — the water is known to be rich in minerals that help cure skin ailments. People in the village believe in a folklore that states that the hot spring has existed from the time of the Pandavas and was visited by Lord Ram as well. It is believed that Lord Ram shot an arrow and pierced the land in Tuwa to allow the hot water to spring up to cure saint Surdas bapu. The place has since has been considered holy and also has a Shiv temple.
However, due to the presence of the hot water spring, people living within a radius of 2 km find that the groundwater in their villages is also hot besides being hard water. The temperature of the hot water spring is usually between 54°C to 65°C and the water is alkaline in nature with high salt and mineral content, rendering the underground water around the area unsuitable for consumption.
Khari faliya, which lies east of the hot water spring and the river, is a settlement developed after people from Mahisagar district were rehabilitated during the Panam Dam project over 40 years ago. The settlement was built up over uninhabited land around 1 km from the hot water spring. However, even after these many years, the struggle for potable water continues.
“We are a family of six and we have nine goats and two cows. Every day we have to walk to the well that is at least a kilometre from here to fetch drinking water,” says Jamnaben. “We cross a railway line too which we know is risky, but there is no other option for us.”
She says the Khari river river lies around half a kilometre from here, but the water is not fit for direct consumption and the river runs dry during peak summers. “We use it for other household purposes. During summers, the problems escalate as water resources are limited and even dry up, while the number of people dependent on it are many,” Jamnaben adds. The Khari is a small tributary of the Mahisagar river and passes through Tuwa.
Tuwa is among 448 of 591 villages in the Panchmahals that is listed under the Regional Water Supply Schemes in the district.
But the farms, where the villagers mostly grow cotton and corn, lie parched and uncultivated for want of irrigation, and the men are forced to migrate outside in search of work. Two years ago, pipelines were installed to help the villagers draw water from a Narmada canal built eight kilometres away in Moti Kathdi, but the three water collection points in the village have no water supply.
“When these water pipes were installed, we were elated. We even got surplus water for two days but there has been no water supply after that,” Dinesh Panda who is also a member of the Tuwa panchayat and was rehabilitated from Santrampur during the Panam dam project, says. “In this stretch, all the villages are facing a water crisis. Many households are dependent on the canal water. The water has to be more than sufficient to satiate the needs of every household which is not the case,” he adds
The water supply department however claims that the issue is restricted to lack of power supply. “In Tuwa, water is being provided through the Narmada canal from Moti Kathdi,” Executive Engineer of the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewage Board (GWSSB) GR Mahajan says. “We have received complaints regarding disruptions in water supply due to power shortage by Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB). We have now asked the GEB for 24-hour power supply so that enough water reaches all the villages.”
Arvind Panda, another villager, shows a deep well that they had dug for underground water, outside his house. The well, which does not have a proper wall lining, is covered with grass and muddy water. “This pit will get filled once it starts raining. We can then use the water. The underground water is always hot even during winters and is salty, so we can not consume it, but can use it for other purposes,” Arvind says. The locality, which is not connected by any proper road to the other villages, now awaits the monsoon for some relief from their water woes.
On the other side of the river, close to the holy hot springs site, lies another neighbourhood of the same village, Kandachpura. Cattle-herders who migrated from Kutch during the great famine of 1900 live here. Six years ago, a Narmada water pipeline reached their village, but the water supply is not constant.
“If we get water today, we might get water again after two or three days,” village Sarpanch Suresh Gadhvi says. “So we generally tend to store water for using on days when there is no supply.”
The locality, a settlement of 40 households, had three hand-pumps for water supply initially.