Chowkidar guards the well 24×7; water theft carries penalty — no water for 5 days
At Badanaal village in Ghatti panchayat, 25 km from Kathua district headquarters, a chowkidar-cum-panchayat member has been guarding one of two wells, the only source of water in the village, round the clock since the onset of summer to keep away “water thieves”. The second well of the village is dried up.
Every morning, chowkidar Sardar Singh comes up with a measuring utensil to provide only 15 litres water per family from the well. A register lies with him wherein an “entry” is made after the specified quantity of water is provided to a family. The village has 60 families comprising more than 300 members. All nomadic families of Gujjars and Bakerwals have already left the village, which is facing a crisis like Maharashtra’s Latur.
Besides rationing of the water, the villagers have been made to take an oath that they will not take any water other than what is provided to them in the morning. And, there is a punishment for the “water thieves” as well. If anybody is caught stealing water from the well, his or her family is not provided water from the well for the next five days. In such a scenario, the family is left with no option but to fetch water from the Ujh river almost 6 km from the village. Some villagers visit the Ujh river with their horses and mules to fetch water on alternate days to meet their water requirements. The village has no road connectivity so its residents cannot be helped out with water tankers.
“We have administered an oath to all families of the village that they will not steal water from the well, and if somebody is caught doing so, the family is not provided water from the well for the next five days. We are left with no option but this locally devised formula to meet the water requirements,” said JP Singh, sarpanch, Ghatti panchayat.
The sarpanch said they had been raising the water scarcity issue for the past many years but successive governments and local representatives had not paid any heed to the sufferings of the villagers. “We were promised that the village would be provided water supply from the Ghatti tube well, and the authorities had started work on laying the pipes but that has now been stalled because of shortage of funds. Our people are still forced to fetch water on horses and mules from the Ujh river. Our children and women are not able to take bath in this hot and humid weather. We have been left at the mercy of God,” he said.
“To do justice to all families living in the village, we decided to devise a mechanism so that all families could get some quantity of water to meet their kitchen requirements. Everyone in the village is hoping that the monsoon will provide some relief here,” Sardar Singh said.
Finding it tough to bear the water shortage, a villager said: “Water scarcity has severely affected the mid-day meal scheme in the middle school of the village. We have two choices — either to leave our homes till the monsoon arrives or continue to face the hardships.”
Upinder Singh, Assistant Executive Engineer, Public Health Engineering Department, said the paucity of funds had affected the water supply scheme and the laying of water pipes from the Ghatti tube well to Badanaal village. “We have apprised the higher-ups of the situation and are hopeful of getting funds for completion of the scheme soon,” he said.