Hariyal, a village situated 17kms from Nainital, a popular tourist destination is just like any other village in the hills of Uttarakhand. Roti, kapda, makaan and migration have always been an issue for the locals here, but in the last 10-15 years water scarcity seems to have taken over all the other issues.
‘Jal hi jeevan hain’ says Suresh Rawat, the 27 year old Sarpanch of the village, he claims to have met several people in the authority including some local politicians for help, unfortunately he can’t fight the battle alone. “Hum roz paani ki dhulai karte hain, sirf apne liye nahi apni gai (cow) ke liye bhi paani chahiye hota hain”, says Suresh who struggles to get water from a tap around 2kms down the hill.
It is certainly climate change which has amplified reduction of local water resources, but does it mean that we let our people die of water scarcity?
From drying up of springs to deforestation several other factors have led to acute shortage of water not only in Hariyal but more than 8 villages around Hariyal. A recent report published by the National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP) reveals a grave situation of drinking water shortage in Uttarakhand. Out of 39,202 villages only 21,363 villages have drinking water facility. The remaining 17,839 villages face severe water shortage either due to the dried up water sources or the failed drinking water projects. Another UNDP report also suggests that Uttarakhand is facing acute water crisis wherein discharges of 500 water supply sources including springs, streams, ponds etc have reportedly reduced by more than 50%.
“Neta sirf apne pait bharti hain, hum gareebo ki kaun suntan hain, kisi ki sarkar aaye ya jaye, koi kuch nahi karta”, says Bhuwan a villager. Bhuwan too walks almost a mile with his kids every morning to fill water from a tap which gives water for only an hour between 7am and 8am and around 15 families use water from the same tap.
Local experts believe that it is not difficult to restore drying springs, the government will have to shed a few crores from its pockets to revive these springs. “Baarish ka paani bhi store kar sakte hain, pata nahi kyu nahi banate tankiya ( water storage tanks), gaon mein hum log barish mein paani store karte hain, magar hum 500ltr tak store kar paate hain, garreb hain kaha se badi tanki lagaye?” asks Kundan while serving water to his cows.
Water is also a major reason because of which farmers of the state are migrating and selling their lands to outsiders. While the CM Trivendra Singh Rawat initiated a water conservation campaign in May last year, mere political symbolism will not help in eradicating this crisis, the state needs urgent attention on this issue and proper water conservation measures. The Uttarakhand High Court has historically declared itself the guardian of cows in the state, it is a welcome step, but for people like Suresh and Bhuwan who have to walk miles to get water for their cows and themselves , it will be a huge step if the High Court and the concerned authorities of Uttarakhand become guardians of water too.
Noman Siddiqui is a Former Journalist of NDTV and a Nature Enthusiast