By dawn, a long queue has formed about a kilometre-and-half from Kororia village. People — holding aluminum buckets and pots or anything that can store water — anxiously wait for their turn at the tubewell that would soon begin to draw water in the form of mud.
“If you are late, all you get is muddy water,” said Sukumar Mahto, speaking about the only tubewell in this part of Purulia, which, the 29-year-old pointed out, is “a dry area”. This lone tubewell supports not just Kororia but neighbouring villages, too.
“We are used to harsh summers, but this year has been particularly bad. Children have acquired allergies and illnesses because there is no water. There are no vegetables either, only potatoes, and that’s what we have been sustaining on,” Mahto said.
The ponds around the village began drying up two months ago. Most of them now sit mudcaked, a reminder that they used to be a water body a while ago. A few still have some water left but their levels have fallen drastically. It is these that men, women, children and cattle use for all things necessary — bathing, washing, cooking, and drinking.
Similar to Birbhum, but unlike other districts in West Bengal, Purulia is largely a monocrop region, planting and harvesting paddy.
Before this long stretch of rainless dry heat set in, Purulia had received a good spell of rainfall in August last year, prompting farmers to try their luck at a second crop — many planted vegetables. But these failed.
“Purulia, officially, is a semi-drought-hit region. But the situation right now is similar to drought. There is no source of water in the district. The surface water has dried up and the groundwater has reduced at an alarming rate. This started in November last year, so we began giving out crop insurance and extended the Rs 2-per kg rice scheme — meant for the lower income groups — to cover the entire district,” District Magistrate Tanmoy Chakraborty said.
He added that 1,000 tubewells have been installed where groundwater is still available. Dry wells have been added to low lying areas so they fill up when the groundwater rises.
For extra measures, the administration has asked owners of factories and small industries to install taps outside their industrial structures to make drinking water available to the common people.
But these industrial owners have their own story to tell.
Prashant Jalan (27), who runs a brick kiln with his father, said no work has taken place for the last three months. “There is no water to manufacture brick,” he said. Work on developmental projects, government sources said, have similarly slowed down because of the scarcity of water.
“There is literally no water here any more. Factory owners have been asked to install taps outside their buildings so that people could come and drink water from these. We will be installing ours in a couple of days,” Jalan said.
These taps, however, will receive water only for two hours each in the morning and evening every day.
“Purulia is a region where the plateau meets the plains… so it is a dry area in any case. The people here are accustomed to harsh climate. What we need is a good spell of rain and the monsoons to come,” the DM said.
The monsoon, unluckily for Purulia and several other parched regions in the country, will be delayed by a week, according to the Met Department’s forecast. It will arrive in Kerala some time at the end of the first week in June. Until then, residents of Kororia village and those nearby will have to keep pace with the rising sun.