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Unquiet flows the water in this village

Sunny Sebastian

As colonisers from cities acquire farmlands in rural areas, the villagers are feeling threatened on water front



The `water man' Rajendra Singh making a point ... .

MACHWA (JAIPUR): There is considerable disquiet among the rural folks on the outskirts of the State Capital about the spreading tentacles of the big city which is taking into its grip the hitherto unspoilt countryside. As colonisers acquire farmlands to convert them into townships, the villagers are feeling threatened about their future, especially on the water front, in an already water-scarce area.

The sense of insecurity about the ground water situation has grown so much that the residents of Machwa, a village some 20 km from Jaipur, convened a "Paani panchayat'' this past weekend to discuss the fundamental question of ownership of water. The "panchayat'', addressed by the Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh, better known as Waterman, was attended by representatives of the colonisers, activist groups and people's representatives from the panchayati raj organisations, including the Zila Pramukh of Jaipur.

Obviously it is a "love-hate'' relationship between the colonisers and the local people. The villagers are happy about the arrival of big groups which has made the land prices skyrocket. They are also painfully aware of the fact that their area is already a dark zone. The villagers are also wary of the wasteful water use by the urbanites. "From one hand-pump 600 of us get drinking water while each of these new occupants would flush toilets and water their lawns with this scarce commodity,'' rued Hanuman Sahai, a villager.

"The people here are facing a very peculiar situation. The whole village has a population of 1,200 persons while a single colony being developed by one group alone would inhabit 1,200 family units,'' pointed out Rajendra Singh. "Not to speak of farming, where would the people get water from to drink?'' he asked.

"The southern part of the village does not have even drinking water while some others in the neighbourhood get water from tankers,'' Kanhaialal, Sarpanch of Machwa, who convened the "panchayat'', noted. "Water is everybody's problem and we should decide on some joint action,'' he said while making it clear that the villagers are for "peaceful co-existence'' of the new and the old population.

"When I came here 30 years ago, water was available at a depth of 15 feet. Now it has gone down 150 feet and even deeper and as many as 20-25 new colonies are coming up,'' Prithviraj Singh, himself a water activist and managing trustee of the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, said lamenting about his own home base. JBF is presently campaigning for a State-level legislation for regulating the use of ground water.

"In another five years the ground water will be finished here. People may be forced to desert this place,'' warned legal activist Girdhari Singh Bafna. The developers should promote water conservation techniques including rainwater harvesting and multiple use of water, he suggested.

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