Sholayoor grama panchayat in Attappady now has a barren landscape with the Kodungarappallom river going dry
In the barren landscape of Sholayoor grama panchayat in Attappady where the tarmac boils up in waves of heat, Rangan Maruthan furiously walks on his crutches to the lone panchayat tap trickling water onto a small wet patch on the dust.
His face set in a grimace, teeth biting hard into the green rubber water hose trailing behind him, and naked torso gleaming with sweat, Maruthan is in the middle of a desperate run for a few drops of water. In a while, his neighbour Ponni overtakes him with a small pitcher in her hand. She stops at the tap and fills it to half by the time Maruthan reaches the spot. She hands the pitcher over to him. Maruthan’s Adam’s apple works overtime as he gulps down the water.
“Slowly, slowly,” Ponni warns him with a grin.
It has been a week since water last came through the tap. The five Irula tribal families of Chenkad ooru in the Anakatty area are entirely dependent on the whims of the tap and the officials who man it.
In 2011, water pipes were laid by the panchayat at the doorsteps of the five houses which comprise the hamlet. But not a drop of drinking water has come their way since. Now, cobwebs and dust cover the water meter under a broken cement slab.
“Everyday, I walk to the panchayat, begging them to turn on the valves to our water connection pipes. They now want Rs.3,000 to give us drinking water,” Maruthan, whose leg was amputated after a fall while working at a brick kiln, said sitting outside his one-room home.
Maruthan has only two possessions inside his hovel — a water drum and the rubber hose — both of which he bought after selling two of his goats. “They [the panchayat] mock us because we are poor. It is cruel to not give water,” Rangan said.
Sholayoor panchayat is parched. Its Kodungarappallom, a river which AHADS had claimed to have revived under the Attappady Wasteland Comprehensive Environmental Conservation Project, is dry and cracked.
A project report for Jalanidhi prepared by the Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (KRWSA) says “erratic rainfall and poor soil retention” is leading Sholayoor, situated in eastern Attappady, to desertification.
“In the 1930s, there was dense forest here. In the 1960s, forests were cut down to make room for cash crops and brick kilns,” Kunjhunni, an old-timer, recalled.
The Rs.2.28-crore Anakatty-Kottathara-Mattathukkad Large Surface Based Water Supply Scheme, implemented by the KRWSA, and now monitored by the panchayat, is largely defunct.
The filter gallery was swept away in a flash flood in 2009, within just a year after it was built.
The iron content removal plant is dysfunctional. Untreated water flows to 1,500 families in Sholayoor, of which 800 are BPL tribal families.
“So far we have had no problem,” P. Ramamurthy, a local politician and secretary of the executive committee in charge of distribution of water under the scheme to Sholayoor, said. He said “some technical problem” has led to Maruthan’s ooru not getting the water for the past two years. “We will give the connection in a week,” he promised.
But Mr. Ramamurthy insisted that the “tribal people are a major headache”.
“The committee has pending bills amounting to Rs.7 lakh from 2010, of this, Rs.5 lakh has to be drawn from tribal families. They cannot pay Rs.50 per month on water bills…” he said.
“We supply 4 lakh litres of drinking water everyday. The electricity bill for the main Kallakkara pump house alone for the month of June was Rs.30,825. Money meant for paying private contractors for laying pipes have been diverted to pay the power bills. Still, we have supplied water for free to 100 families at Vannanthara tribal ooru for the past five years… So please do not judge us,” a visibly upset Ramamurthy said.