K.K. Sontake has an unenviable job at hand: he has to not only manage the jostling crowds for two hours every morning but also maintain amity among long-time neighbours, old friends and close family members, as they vie with one another for their share of water.
Surrounded by the Balaghat Hill range that extends southward to Karnataka, the residents of Karanji village of Jalkot taluka challenge the extreme temperatures and the searing heat of April as they manage their daily supply of water with just one private tube-well, requisitioned by the Block Development Officer (BDO) for a population of 1,444.
The village elders have allotted five buckets each for a family during the two hours of water supply every morning. The private tube-well is the only source of water for the village since the local Jhirga Storage Tank dried up following a poor monsoon. There are no borewells and dug wells and the villagers have requested another tube-well or tanker water supply. The local BDO’s team is yet to visit the village to assess its needs.
“Sometimes, the water scarcity appears small, compared to the daily bickering over water we elders are forced to tackle. Not only old friends and long-time neighbours, even cousins end up fighting during the two hours. Nobody knows when this will end,” he says, while jumping in to break up another fight that has just broken out between two women.
Social unrest has made headlines in Latur city where the District Collector was forced to invoke Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In the adjoining Ahmedpur taluka, four water filling points in the Jamb village face a water war of sorts twice every week when the supply arrives from four tankers, each having a capacity of 25,000 litres. At about 100 meters from the decanting point, scores of men and children from the nearby households throw themselves on the tanker. Risking their lives, they ferociously climb on top to secure a vantage point. The womenfolk throw thick pipes with magnets tied to one end. As the tanker comes to a halt, the scramble begins.
The 25,000-litre tanker is emptied in less than six minutes.
Bano Bi, an old woman with no man in her family to help, is left stranded with empty pots. “Nobody cares for anyone in this drought-like scenario. People have become selfish and do not share their pipe with even the elders,” she rues.
Sarpanch Sindhutai Punde has tried to introduce police protection and bring some sense to the madness at the drop points, but to no avail. “The rule is simple: if you have the might, then fetch your water. No amount of regulation and rules work because people simply refuse to obey,” he said.