Chatarpur, Lalitpur, Bundelkhand: Lying across the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Bundelkhand is among the hottest and most arid regions in the country.
Till the rains came last year, Bundelkhand was hit by three successive droughts. It recharged the groundwater a bit and so this summer is not as bad as the last few. Still the women spend more than half a day just to fetch water.
“My whole day goes away here. There is work to do at home too,” said 16-year-old Priyanka, a high school student, from whom the summer vacations at school have not meant any respite. Her biggest fear – “If there is a little more heat, even this tap will dry up. If this one stops, we will have to go somewhere else.”
At 10 am, the temperature in Priyanka’s village — Mundhara in Chatarpur — is well over 30 degrees. But it is cooler than the 45 degrees it will rise to around mid-day. The women have hastened to queue up for water at the only working hand pump of the village. The village, with its hundred families, is not exactly sprawling. Even so, most of them have to walk as much a kilometre. They keep repeating the trip – till most containers at home are full.
Three of the village’s four hand pumps are running dry this summer. The wells are dry. And the check dams – which brake the flow of water in small rivers and canals during monsoons and allow it to seep into the soil — also do not have water.
Around 1 pm, the kilometer-long walk from her home to the nearest hand pump in Lalitpur’s Rampura Kothwar village, is as bad as it can get for Jyoti. For when she is gone, there is no one to take care of her four children. The men in Jyoti’s village — including her husband — curse the oppressive heat, but won’t lend a helping hand.
“I have been to the pump 25 times today, filling 17 big vessels and many small ones. As a poor person, I can’t even afford to fall ill, I guess. And if I do, I have to be up and about as soon as possible,” she said.
Over the years, successive governments have pumped in crores of rupees to solve Bundelkhand’s water crisis. Money has been allocated for hand pumps, check dams, even water supply projects.
The most recent infusion has been Rs 47 crore, sanctioned by Chief Minister Adityanath in April for a drinking water scheme. “Bundelkhand has been continuously ignored in the last 15 years and no steps have been taken to ensure the development of the region. I am aware of the hardships faced by the people of the region,” the Chief Minister has said.
But the best interventions have come from locals, especially from women like 45-year-old Pushpa, who, helped by a local NGO, convinced everyone in her village near Lalitpur’s Talbehat block to help rebuild a check dam that was in shambles in 2013.
“We told everyone that fetching water meant the girls could not go home. We spoke to our husbands too. In summers now, we don’t have to go far to fill water,” she proudly said.