In summer,water is a precious commodity in many parts of the country. But at Dholi village in Limbdi taluka,one of the driest villages of Gujarats parched Surendranagar district,water is so scarce that they guard it with their lives.
If women and children keep a watch over the small village pond with its meagre amount of potable water,at night,the men not only lock up their wells but sleep over the wooden lids as well,to ensure nobody tries breaking in and stealing water.
In this village of around 4,000,life has always been this way,even as the state sets itself up as a model for development. Dholi does not have even a proper approach road,with hardly a government official dropping by.
Besides Dholi,there are many more parched villages in the region that are left praying for the monsoons every summer when the sun saps the ponds and wells and bakes the fields into dry,cracked hectares such as Kamalpur,Wakhatpur,Anandpur,Devpura,Karsangadh and more. This happens when the Narmada canal brings succour to thousands of others not far away.
The ruling BJP though wants to believe otherwise,with Dholi falling in the supply scheme area of the Narmada water canal. Says local MLA Kiritsinh Rana: We are providing them Narmada water and there is no scarcity in the village. The village earlier used to face a water problem,but that is not the case now.
However,District Water Supply Board (DWSB) officials admit that it isnt as simple as that. Dholi village was earlier getting some water as part of the Panshina Group Water Supply Scheme,but subsequently it was made a part of the Laxmisar Group Scheme,which draws water from the Vallabhipur Branch Canal of the Narmada main canal. The board officials say that with the village being at the tail end of the water supply scheme,water just doesnt reach there with enough pressure.
N V Patel,chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL),expresses ignorance about these villagers not benefiting from the Narmada canal which,he points out,has ensured regular potable water to over 5,000 villages across the state. We provide water to the water supply board wherever they need it. I dont know why Dholi or these villages are not getting water from the Narmada canal. You had better ask the water supply board people, he says.
The village sarpanch,Dahyabhai Bawaliya,says they have tried all of that. We have been complaining for so many years to the water supply board and the local politicians. Nothing has ever worked, he says.
Our forefathers taught us to dig wells around the village pond during summers to get water, says villager Prabhubhai Gami. In monsoon,all these wells get sunk in the pond,and every year we make new ones.
Around the village pond one can see many of those wells that have come up this summer,each carefully covered with a wooden lid and a padlock,and none left unwatched,day or night.
Walk into any home and you will easily get a meal for free. But nobody will give you a bucket of water, says Ganga Chauhan,sitting protectively on the side of her own well near the pond. We cannot let this water be stolen,so we keep watch after locking it up,because every home here is hard up for water and some might try and steal it.
While Dholi does have a public water-storage tank,the villagers have never seen it full since it was built two years ago. We get piped water at the only outlet in the village for barely half an hour. The pressure is always so low that there are fights and quarrels at the outlet, says Prabhubhai Gami. The situation is such that people have stopped marrying their daughters into our village.
The quality of the water too is a problem,says Prabhu Gami. Many in the village suffer from kidney stones and other ailments.
DWSB Deputy Engineer P P Gupta says the water board has been planning to find a solution by setting up a pumping station closer. He promises it will happen soon.