Dumka (Jharkhand) (IANS/ 101 Reporters) The Central government's ambitious plan to provide tap water connection to every household in the country has not eased the water woes in remote villages of Jharkhand. In quite a few places, it has proved to be counterproductive.
After the launch of Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) in 2019, all existing water supply projects were brought under the nationwide scheme. The rationale was that a village cannot benefit from two different government-run water schemes.
The tribal villagers of Dumka district mostly depend on hand pumps (chapanals) and natural water sources (jorias) to meet their water needs. However, water shortage usually peaks during summer (March-June), making even contaminated water valuable.
Despite the grim situation, neither new chapanals were installed nor defunct pumps were repaired ever since the JJM came into existence. Similarly, the solar pumping system under the scheme also did not come to fruition in most places due to several reasons, including issues related to land acquisition and eligibility criteria.
For instance, 70 Bengali and 40 Santal tribal families residing in four hamlets in Murgathol village of Dumka district's Masalia block get their drinking water from just two hand pumps. For other purposes, they depend on a contaminated well.
"There is only one chapanal in our tola (village portion) Narayanpur," said Sumitra Pujharni (30) from Ranga gram panchayat, which was adopted by Jharkhand's tallest leader and former Chief Minister Shibu Soren under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. Though the hand pump is located just 100 m from her home, she takes around four hours daily to fetch water as everyone depends on the same facility. She has to repeat the task seven to eight times a day, while balancing household chores and taking care of her three children.
Admitting that no new hand pumps have been installed in Dumka post-JJM, Mahendra Baitha, Sub-Divisional Officer, Drinking Water and Sanitation Department, Dumka, said repairs were affected mostly due to lack of necessary material/resources or because it was a bore-related issue.
Non-availability of water even after deep drilling is one of the many reasons affecting projects here. "Two-and-a-half months ago, borewell drilling was done up to a depth of 250 ft, yet water could not be sighted. Due to this, solar tank installation under JJM has been stalled," said Saloni Hembram, an elderly woman.
"Even this has been non-functional for the past three years," she said, pointing to a rusty hand pump next to the drilled area. Sanatan Pujhar, Bileshwar Murmu and Maniya Murmu of Sarmundi complained in unison that they were forced to drink contaminated water due to the inefficient implementation of projects.
"Three chapanals in our village are dysfunctional. Women had complained at the block office, but nothing happened," said Osit Dhivar of Murgathol. Kajal Pujhar of Ranga said two chapanals in her area have been in need of repair. "We have not complained, we know nothing will happen," she sounded hopeless.
Fourteen of the 24 districts in Jharkhand are part of the 117 aspirational districts selected from across the country. Aspirational districts and villages with tribal population get priority under the scheme. Under the JJM, Dumka's performance has been dismal at below 25 per cent in September last. Since then, it has made slight progress to touch 33.68 per cent as on February 2. Right now, Dumka is ranked at 589 in the country in terms of providing tap water and 82 in the list of aspirational districts.
Only Ramgarh district has made good progress with tap water provided to 60.04 per cent households. Simdega's performance is also satisfactory (48.36 per cent). However, Pakur (8.07 per cent), Godda (16.46 per cent), Palamu (18.08 per cent), Jamtara (21.23 per cent) and Chatra (24.96 per cent) have been severely lagging behind. In all, while 57.16 per cent of households in the country got the scheme's benefit so far, it is only 29.99 per cent in Jharkhand.
Water is sourced from rivers/dams only for high-capacity towers that serve around 60 families. For the smaller structures built under JJM, borewells have to be dug first. "Ramgarh and Saraiyahat blocks in Dumka district and the entire Godda get water from the Ganga. Pakur also draws a portion of its water from the river.
Asked why the scheme was lagging behind, Sanjay Kumar Jha, JJM Chief Engineer for Jharkhand, told 101Reporters that water availability was a big issue. Citing a case, he said: "In Santal Pargana, the borewell did not yield enough water to lift. It also dried up in summer, which put a spanner in the works."
However, Tapan Ghevar of Murgathol blamed it on administrative reasons. "An electricity-powered water tank was built in the village three years ago, but it has not started functioning. We thought we could benefit from JJM's solar water facility. But officials told us that we cannot have a solar tank because we already have a water tower in place."
Explaining the issue, Sukhen Gorain told 101Reporters that his family's eight kattha land was acquired for water tower construction under the Rs 4.84-crore Godmala water supply scheme around six years ago to cater to all villages in the district, except Rampur, via an intake well on River Nunbil. "Two years have passed after tower construction under the JJM, but we are yet to receive compensation," he said.
However, Mahendra Baitha claimed the family members were demanding better compensation for the acquired land, which was causing a delay. "Getting a three-phase power connection is another hurdle that has affected project implementation," he said.
Meanwhile, an official from the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department told 101Reporters that the compensation amount has arrived, but can be released only after the Land Acquisition Department processed the same. Several other officials that 101Reporters spoke to admitted that compensation has not been paid in most places, affecting work in most places. Pipeline laying has also been affected due to this.
Like Sukhen, Sanjay Tudu's family in Gadarwara has lost seven kattha land for JJM. "We will not allow any work until we are compensated. That is why we have prevented laying of pipeline near the tank."
While the cost of the project may vary depending on the length of the pipes laid, Eklavya Prasad, a drinking water expert and trustee of Megh Payan Abhiyan, told 101Reporters that achieving JJM targets were quite feasible for Jharkhand as every district has funds available under the District Mineral Foundation Trust (DMFT).
Notably, a recent study by iForest has found that 85 per cent of the Rs 5,704 crore allocated under the DMFT in Jharkhand has been spent on drinking water sources so far. However, Prasad cautioned that increased dependence on borewells can be dangerous to people's health due to the high presence of fluoride in water.