It is a daily ritual for Jayamma, an elderly woman, to spend hours vying with other women to collect two potful of drinking water from a borewell outside Kaggala village, 7 km from Gundlupet.
The water storage tanks in her village are barely filled once a week and the residents are forced to queue before the borewell, whenever there is power for two to three hours during the day. “This is our daily predicament,” she says in a tone of resignation.
Scarcity of drinking water is peaking across Gundlupet taluk, which lies in the rain-shadow side of the Western Ghats. The taluk is going to bypolls on April 9.
When Congress candidate Geetha Mahadeva Prasad and her rival from the BJP C.S. Niranjan Kumar campaigned, the most obvious demand from the electorate of this perennially drought-hit taluk was water, apart from employment and power. “We have been bringing our difficulties to their notice every election, but our wait for the elusive water continues,” says Ms. Jayamma.
Receding water level
Though drinking water is already provided to Gundlupet town and villages under eight other gram panchayats from Kabini, the receding water level has put a strain on the flow of drinking water.
Bhagat Kumar, a young graduate who was in the crowd that had gathered to greet Ms. Geetha on her campaign trail at Ingalwadi village, said voters like him are using the bypolls to bring pressure on the candidates to fill up the lakes in the constituency. “It has been months since it rained here and the taluk has been declared drought-hit at least for the last three consecutive years.”
Though projects have been taken up to fill more than 10 to 12 large lakes, the work is proceeding at a snail’s pace. “If the Nalluru Ammani Kere, whose catchment spreads across several hundred acres, is filled up, the dried up borewells in the villages in the vicinity will spring back to life,” he said.
Shankara, who had come to Berambadi village to listen to BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa campaign for Mr. Niranjan Kumar, said he was frustrated over the delay in implementation of the projects.
Gundlupet taluk Panchayat officials, meanwhile, say the work on laying the pipeline to provide drinking water to about 127 villages in the taluk under the Bahugrama Drinking Water project was nearing completion. They promise a trial run within weeks.
Gundlupet, which is situated on the State’s border with Kerala, had elected the late H.S. Mahadeva Prasad for five consecutive terms since 1994 — once each from Janata Dal (1994), JD-U (1999), JD (S) (2004), and twice from Congress (2008 and 2013). His unexpected death has pitchforked his wife Ms. Geetha into the electoral battle as the Congress candidate against Mr. Niranjan Kumar, who lost the last two polls by small margins.
With the JD(S) choosing to stay out of the electoral race in the constituency, the April 9 bypolls will be a straight fight between Congress and BJP, both of whom have fielded candidates belonging to the dominant Lingayat community.
The roughly 2 lakh electorate in the constituency also comprises a substantial number of Dalits, with a sprinkling of Kurubas, Upparas, Nayakas and Muslims.
While the Congress is keen to cash in on the sympathy factor by fielding Mahadeva Prasad’s wife, the unrelenting efforts by both the parties to consolidate voters on caste lines does not appear to be paying off. For, caste groups remain politically heterogeneous, throwing a big question mark on the outcome of the polls.