A half-filled drum of water measuring about 25 litres is all Rekha has left for her family of six living in a slum cluster near south Delhi’s Mahipalpur.
For the past three days, she said, her son and nephew have been unsuccessful in reaching a nearby, privately owned borewell from where they get their daily supply, because of police heavy handedness. “There is not a drop of water left here,” said the 35-year-old, referring to the jhuggi jhopri cluster of about a 100 families that are involved in waste picking in Mahipalpur.
“My son tried to get water a couple of days ago but ran into police officers midway, who hit him with lathis and asked him to go back home. They did the same with my nephew a day earlier,” said Rekha.
Others in the slum claimed the borewell has been shut since the lockdown began, which was unexpected for them as they thought authorities would not interrupt water supply.
Sunil Kumar (30) managed to fill up two drums of water of 50 litres each less than a week ago. One of them finished Thursday morning, as his family of 10 uses this water for cooking, drinking, bathing and almost everything else. At this pace, the other drum might also run out soon.Kumar, who works as a waste picker, said, “We have to stop the spread of this disease (coronavirus) and for that we have been told we need to keep washing our hands. But how will we be able to do that with no water left? I have stopped going to work because of this.”
The slum cluster where Rekha and Kumar live is not connected to the water network of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and has not been receiving water tankers for around four months. The only source of water, they said, is the privately owned borewell, which charges around Rs 70 for 50 litres of potable water, and Rs 20 for 15 litres of drinking water.
“My son has been sick for two days; he has a headache and fever. We have been told to wash our hands, but bathing is out of question. Our drinking water has also run out,” said Rekha.
Adding to the woes of families in this cluster is a slump in work, as residential colonies have started restricting entry of waste pickers, and there’s no waste coming out of offices.
There are also no takers for dry waste that has accumulated at the site — such as plastic, rags and cardboard — which families sell for a living, said Rekha.
The local general store has started charging more for necessities with 5 kg of wheat flour now selling for Rs 190 — Rs 50 more than the price before lockdown, Kumar said.
It’s a similar story in Northwest Delhi’s Bhalswa, where Sahira Bano (37), the local secretary of the waste pickers group Safai Sena, said they are just about making it with a private water tank coming once a week.
“We are getting piped water here but that also comes once a week and smells really bad and is dark in colour. When the water tanker comes, there is crowding and fights break out as well,” she said.
Bano estimates that there are about 1,000 waste pickers in the area, all of whom have lost work since the lockdown. The Bhalswa landfill, where they would pick up dry waste from to resell, has shut their entry. “The shops around here open every day, but when people do not have any money, what will they buy?”
A DJB official said they have taken note of the problem faced in both areas and it would be resolved soon.
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