The Union government’s Jal Jeevan Mission dashboard says 192 or 80% of the 238 families in Maikhanda village in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district get tap water at home. But when IndiaSpend visited the village, only one village tap was the source of water for all the families living there.
Not just Rudraprayag, several villagers in Chamoli and Tehri district too have no water despite having tap connections. Uttarakhand is known for its mighty rivers and perennial water sources. However, during the summer, people – especially those living in the hills – face a scarcity of water.
To provide drinking water to all households, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Har Ghar Jal scheme from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2019. In Uttarakhand, of the over 15 lakh families in rural areas, 9,34,259 or 62.5% now have a tap connection, up from 1,30,325 households in August 2019.
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission scheme, 95% of households in the Dehradun district have a tap connection, the highest proportion of any district in the state, while Haridwar, with 39% of households with taps, has the least connections.
Taps without water
Around two years ago, many families in Maikhanda got a tap connection, but no water flows from these taps. The source of water for the entire village is from one tap. But even this water is not a guarantee.
“During summers, water literally trickles out of the tap and during monsoon, the pipeline gets damaged and it takes months to get it repaired,” said Muskaan, a Class 12 student who fills water for her home every morning before school. The men of the house go out for work, and her mother is busy with household chores, which means Muskaan often gets late for school waiting in the queue at the water tap. She said, “It affects my studies.”
Maikhanda, a scenic village in the Kedar valley by the Mandakini River, is economically and socially backward, and nearly 80% of the households belong to the Scheduled Castes and 5% to the Scheduled Tribes. The village is close to the national highway, so it has easy access to government schools, a primary health centre and grocery stores. Yet, getting water is a constant struggle.
“The mission of Har Ghar Jal scheme is to provide water to households via tap connections from the water sources that are already present,” said Nawal Kumar Singh, the nodal officer for the scheme in Rudraprayag district. “However, as there is not enough water in the water source close to the Maikhanda Gram Sabha, people living in the village are not getting tap water. We are looking for alternative water sources.”
Similarly, residents of Raudeli village, in Tehri Garhwal district, also complain that the taps are not connected to a water source.
“When we asked the authorities the reason behind this, they say that no water source has been designated for our village yet,” said Dinesh Singh, the village head of Raudeli. He added that there are many water sources near the village, but they are not used properly. “Right on top of our village, there is an ancient water source which gets clear water from the roots of banjh oak trees. Besides, the Hebal River flows very close to our village. Despite this, our village faces a severe water crisis.”
Poor water management
Each person is supposed to get 55 litres of water on a daily basis under the Har Ghar Jal scheme. If the existing source of water is not enough to provide sufficient water, then the water pipeline in the village would be connected to some other water source, said Kumar, the programme’s nodal officer in Rudraprayag. In the mountain regions of Uttarakhand, as the temperature goes up, the level of water in these water sources depletes rapidly, villagers said.
Village head Dinesh Singh of Tehri blames the administration. “In our village, we get water from a stream named Vironda…However, because of the wrong policies adopted by the administration, water from this stream is provided to other villages as well. As a result of this, none of the villages, including ours, get enough water,” he said.
“Before the commencement of any scheme, a Detailed Project Report is prepared,” he said. “I have been requesting the authorities to provide me with the Detailed Project Report that was prepared for my village just to understand how they are planning to connect the taps to the water source. But the department is not willing to share the report.”
In Paini village in Chamoli district, 100% of the houses have tap connections. “Because now every house has a connection, people are using this water not just for daily chores but also for irrigation,” said Manmohan, a villager who goes by one name. “Because of this, the usage of water has gone up, but there is not enough water. This is a new problem that we are facing.”
‘No water scarcity’
On March 22, on World Water Day, while addressing a seminar in Dehradun, Rajendra Dobhal, director general of the Uttarakhand State Council for Science and Technology, iterated that there is no scarcity of water in Uttarakhand. He added people are suffering because of poor water management practices adopted by the authorities.
Two of the biggest rivers in the country – the Ganga and the Yamuna – and the many tributaries of these two rivers emerge from the Uttarakhand glacier and provide water to many regions in North India.
Less than 50% of Uttarakhand’s population gets clean and sufficient drinking water, according to a 2018 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Apart from the drinking water crisis, the state is also grappling with grave issues like overexploitation of groundwater, deforestation, and natural water sources like streams and waterfalls going dry, the Comptroller and Auditor General report said.
“Many of our researchers have been studying the drinking water problem in the state ever since Uttarakhand came into being. All the findings point to serious drinking water problems in the near future,” said Prashant Singh, deputy coordinator of Uttarakhand State Council for Science and Technology and professor of chemistry at the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College.
Factors such as global warming, unplanned road construction in the hills, illegal blasting of mountains to make roads, and the chirpine forests, exacerbate water depletion in the hills, he added. “We will have to take some solid measures to secure our natural water sources,” he said.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.