‘Paani do, vote lo’ — people in Jodhpur’s rural areas await solution to decade-long water crisis

Jodhpur: The residents of Basni Bedan village, situated barely 10 kilometres away from the city of Jodhpur, were a happy lot after taps were installed there. The taps were supposed to end their decade-long ‘thirst’ for water. But the joy was short-lived. All they got out of the taps was trapped air, not water.

These villagers have now pinned their hopes on the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for 26 April in the Jodhpur constituency, with one clear demand — paani do, vote lo (votes for water).

“Pipelines were laid, taps were installed, but there is no water. It’s been almost ten years. Our situation has not changed one bit. We have to rely on private tankers to fulfil our needs,” says resident Mangla Ram.

Pani ke mudde pe koi baat nahi ho rahi, jaise hone chahiye. Neta aate hain, bolte hain pani denge, lekin dete nahi (No one is taking the issue of water scarcity seriously. Politicians make fake promises, and then forget all about it),” says Sushila, resident of another village in the Jodhpur district, Barron Ki Dani. She adds that water supply is the only issue that the people of the village are raising with the political leaders visiting for campaign.


Sushila, resident of Barron Ki Dani, a village in Jodhpur district | Photo by Devesh Singh Gautam, ThePrint

These residents claim that they are forced to spend anything between Rs 1000-2000 on water tankers, which they use to fill up the tanks installed inside their homes. Another villager, Pappu, says, “It’s 2024, and we are yet to get water. We hear about cities getting 24/7 water supply and here, there is none for 15 days. We don’t care which party comes to power, we only want water.”

Several rural areas in Jodhpur and neighbouring districts are still gripped by a water crisis. As far as groundwater is concerned, all that the villagers get is hard water.

“Even the tanks where we store the water are difficult to clean. Flies, even small snakes, sometimes make their way into the water. We have to use the same water to drink, as well as for our cattle. Those unable to afford an alternative have to left their milk-producing cows drink water from the nearby drain,” says Rahul Singh of Bhandu Kallan village.

The water crisis is not new, but projects like the Har Ghar Nal Se Jal scheme, the ambitious initiative launched in 2019 by the Prime Minister Modi-led government to provide piped water connection to every house in rural India, raised the hopes of the people.

Accused of not delivering on the water issue, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is also the Member of Parliament from Jodhpur and is now seeking another term, has promised that the people will be rid of their water woes within a year.

Main jadugar nahi hun. Lekin aapke pani ki samasya main hal zaroor karunga (I am no magician, but I will definitely solve your water problem),” Shekhawat told a group of people in Balesar village in Jodhpur district. The comment is seemingly a jibe at former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who is often referred to as Jadugar (magician) in the political circles of  the state. Gehlot lost the state elections in December last year. Both the senior leaders are viewed as rivals.

According to Shekhawat, when work started under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi to ensure tap water supply for every household, “only 16 percent of the country used to get water. Today, 76 percent of households are getting water.”

Shekhawat has pinned the blame of unavailability of water on the previous Congress party-led government in Rajasthan. He said, “Unfortunately, in Rajasthan, in the past five years, the Congress government gave preference to politics over the thirst of people. Despite providing them with financial help and resources, they did not do their work. It is because of their failure that Rajasthan is still reeling under water crisis.”

The opposition, hoping to oust Shekhawat from the Jodhpur Lok Sabha seat, has been targeting the minister for his failure to solve Jodhpur’s water problem.

“Despite being a cabinet minister, he could not do anything for his constituency, forget about the entire state. Water remains a key issue. In this scenario, he should have simply quit,” Congress’ Jodhpur candidate Karan Singh Uchiyarda told ThePrint.

MP Shekhawat, in an interview to ThePrint, alleged that the Ashok Gehlot government stalled water projects of the Har Ghar Nal Se Jal scheme, resulting in the water crisis in Jodhpur. “Congress was aware that if water reaches every household in the state, they will not be able to come back to power for the next 50 years. Congress committed a sin against the people of Rajasthan, and kept them thirsty for their political gains,” he said.

He further claimed that the Congress government did not start the work on the third phase of the Rajiv Gandhi Lift Canal project on time.

Caught amid this slugfest between Congress and BJP are the people of the district, who are hoping that the elections will bring about some change.

Residents of Barron Ki Dani village | Photo by Devesh Singh Gautam, ThePrint
Residents of Barron Ki Dani village | Photo by Devesh Singh Gautam, ThePrint

“How can people survive without water? At places where pipelines have been laid, they are broken down by tanker mafias because in the absence of water, they are able to sell it. Even to get water from the tankers, for which we pay a lot of money, we have to queue up,” says Ram Singh, a resident of the area. 

“There has been a water problem for years, but it has not been solved till date. Leave aside irrigation, even drinking water is difficult to find,” he adds.

Earlier this year, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti for the implementation of the “Modified PKC-ERCP” (integration of the original Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal (PKC) link with Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project). This is the second project under the Government of India’s national perspective plan of the interlinking of rivers (ILR) programme.

ERCP has been in the pipeline for a long time. In 2017, the then chief minister Vasundhara Raje had prepared the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project and sent it to the central government to tackle the water problem in 13 districts of eastern Rajasthan. Under this project, surplus monsoon water is diverted from the Chambal basin.

The Congress leaders have countered Shekhawat’s allegations by saying that the water crisis began after the BJP government took over in December. “People are angry with the local BJP MPs as they haven’t done anything. They have not delivered. Centre did not focus on Rajasthan. Take, for instance, the ERCP scheme. The PM had given a commitment, and then they didn’t deliver. We did raise the issue. They just signed an MoU which is nothing but a sham. No one knows anything about it. We improved the water situation during our tenure. In fact, the problem lies in water distribution, not availability,” former CM Ashok Gehlot told ThePrint in an interview.

(Edited by Mannat Chugh)

Also Read: Lost patience with Congress, state sharks thwart changes Rahul wants — Manvendra Singh on joining BJP



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