Mathura/Vrindavan: When cine veteran Hema Malini won the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Mathura-Vrindavan, the first commitment she made was to provide safe and adequate quantity of water for every home and a Yamuna fully rejuvenated and filled with water. As she completes one year as MP from the land of Sri Krishna's legend, voters are asking what happened to the commitment.
Many mohallas and colonies in Mathura, Goverdhan, Vrindavan and Chaumuhan are still short of water. The piped water supply does not touch colonies on the periphery of the towns, which remain totally dependent on ground water.
With the water table falling sharply, the problem gets aggravated.
"Earlier hand pumps were sufficient but now submersible pumps, tube wells and borings are coughing more air than water. No water is available till a depth of 150 feet or more, says river activist Madhu Mangal Shukla.
With the Yamuna being called a "sewage canal" by the residents, the water crisis just gets worse. Even the Gokul Barrage, set up to clean up the water, has not helped either.
Each day, people in some locality or the other have been protesting on the road, demanding uninterrupted supplies.
Despite hundreds of crores of rupees invested in infrastructural development in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapeizium Zone, spread over 10,400 sq km, the districts of Agra, Mathura and Firozabad continue to face acute shortage of power and water.
People in Firozabad are up in arms against the administration, demanding more water. Work on a canal to bring water from the river Ganga is progressing at a snail's pace.
"The problem is not only of quantity but also quality of water in the river. Unless they desilt and dredge the river on a massive scale from Delhi to Agra, the underground aquafiers would not be charged and the water table will not rise," activist Dr Ashok Bansal told IANS.
During summer the drinking water problem in the district becomes even more acute, forcing villagers to walk miles to fetch a pail of water.
Village panchayat member Ram Bharosey in Chaumuhan block says the villagers have been demanding extension of water pipeline network to cover more areas, but to no avail.
Perhaps recognising the gravity of the problem, the district administration is supporting installation of reverse-osmosis (RO) plants where villagers can pay for water. The one inaugurated by the UP chief minister in Goverdhan on March 11 became operational on April 1.
Mathura district magistrate Rajesh Kumar told IANS that the chief minister had sanctioned five more such plants for the Braj area. Each plant will provide 5,000 litres of water daily, which can be raised to 10,000 litres.
"The users will have to pay 50 paise per litre initially. Later it will be reduced to 25 paise per litre," he said.
But such efforts are like a drop in the ocean. Gopal Das, a farmer, says the ground water is hard and undrinkable. "Young people are turning old, suffering the consequences of hard water. Fluorosis is common from the excessive fluoride in the water."
Ram Beti, another farmer from Chaumuhan, wonders: "What kind of development is this where you do not even have drinking water for the common man?"
Dr M.K Mathur of the public health centre at Chaumuhan says that due to the fluoride, magnesium, arsenic, calcium and other trace elements in the water people are falling sick.
Village leader Ajit Singh says that a large number of people were suffering from chronic hepatitis and typhoid cases had multiplied.
Last week, out of 222 patients examined in a village near Kosi, 92 were found to be hepatitis B and C positive, indicating the poor quality of water. The alarm has put the health authorities in the district on high alert.
Mathura's chief development officer (CDO) Andra Vamsi has asked village level functionaries to hold awareness activities to educate people about water-borne diseases, He has also asked Jal Nigam officials to ensure supply of drinking water through tanks or pipelines to all such villages which have been identified as fluorosis-affected. But such efforts may take a while to bear fruit.
The water woes trail you wherever you go. In the Chata area, a resident, K.K Pathak, says state agencies have hardly helped to solve the problem. Kosi resident B.S Sharma says unless urgent measures are taken, the problem will become too big to tackle. In Nandgaon and Barsana, pilgrims are being fleeced with water bottles selling at a premium.
Shri Gopal of Chaumuhan says "we had big hopes from the Samajwadi Party government, but so far nothing has been done."
In Baldev, Vishnu Dixit had a simple plea: "Fancy development can wait, just give us water."
It's only the villagers of Pasauli who have got together and done something, not waiting for the administration to act. They pooled in money to dig a bore well where water could be reached.
Through a pipeline they brought the water to the village. To run the pump for the borewell, they arranged a tractor. The villagers realised that self-help was the only mantra for progress in the village. Politicians are not going to help.
Pankaj Goswami of Gokul says the Braj Bhoomi was once famous for its dense forests and water bodies. "In the name of development, nature has been the loser and we humans the sufferers," lamentd Goswami. It's high time politicians did something concrete and lasting.