Not dry, but not in full flow either

Water scarcity is the main issue in Chikkaballapur. A file picture of a dry borewell at Totagere in the town.   | Photo Credit: K. Bhagya Prakash

Early in 2016, in the grip of drought for the fourth straight year, people of Pathapalli were in a rage. Surrounded by barren flatlands and rocky hills along the Andhra Pradesh boundary, the village had been facing an acute drinking water shortage. The people went on a protest demanding a comprehensive drinking water scheme in Chikkaballapur town, the district headquarters, and by March, the anger boiled over.

Over 10,000 farmers landed in Bengaluru and headed to the Chief Minister’s house, where they were lathi-charged and arrested.

But now, the people have access to at least five drinking water units that purify water drawn from deep borewells. All of these have been set up in the past year and provide 15 litres at ₹2.

“Before, we had to scrounge for water and had no option but to drink flouride-contaminated water,” says Venkatarammappa from the neighbouring Thullapalli village.

According to National Rural Drinking Water Programme, three in four samples of water in the village were biologically or chemically contaminated.

In the district, however, assurances given after the massive protest have not been met. A ₹13,000-crore project to divert water from the tributaries of the Nethravati on the Western Ghats (which helped the Congress win the 2014 Lok Sabha election here) is still in the construction phase, while a ₹1,300-crore project to treat sewage from Bengaluru has not seen a drop of water yet.

In a State where lack of drinking water access can bring down governments, this anger had to be calmed down. The scheme of “water ATMs” — small water dispensers that serve a community — has thus come in handy.

The State government says it has constructed 10,191 such units across the State, while Opposition MLAs have used a significant portion of their local area funds to set up their own units that cost between ₹5.5 lakh and ₹15 lakh.

In the Chikkanayakahalli constituency in arid Tumakuru, the government has built 62 units. The Janata Dal(S) MLA, Suresh Babu, says he has built another 40. “These units are to show my concern, and are not to gain votes,” he says.

Electoral advantage

There is a clear electoral advantage, the MLAs say, particularly in areas where flouride contamination is rampant (over 1,100 habitations have access only to contaminated water). Among the promises given by Congress MLA Rafiq Ahmed in Tumakuru city is to double the number of units, if re-elected.

Even in Bengaluru, where water access mirror class iniquities, drinking water is a prime concern. MLAs have been posting their workers at the units to remind users that it was they who constructed them. In the Hebbal constituency, for instance, the BJP MLA has constructed 36 “saffron” coloured units.

In the highly contested Channapatna constituency, C.P. Yogeshwara, BJP MLA, taking on former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S), is relying on works to bring water to lakhs of villages. In north Karnataka, Irrigation Minister M.B. Patil believes the Congress has an edge through schemes that filled arid lakes in the arid region.

The micro-schemes seems to have won over Rangaswamy at Subramanahalli in the backward Pavagada region, where his family is now dependent on the local drinking water unit. “There are four voters in our family, and we used to split the vote between the Congress and the JD(S). Now, we will vote for the Congress only,” he says.

However, there arises a question of too little, too late. By the government’s own estimates, nearly 3,600 such drinking water units are yet to be functional. Many voters are aware that the promises made in 2013 to implement “comprehensive schemes” have failed.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 11:32:12 AM |

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