LATUR, Maharashtra: The sun is scorching at 41 degrees Celsius at 1.30 in the afternoon. Standing in the long queue studded with hundreds of multi-coloured plastic pots is Sakshi Birajda. Dressed in her school uniform, the Class VII student of Jija Matha school, a few kilometres away, has joined her family to collect drinking water from a public tap outside the Vivekananda Chowk water tanker filling point. While she makes it a point to attend school even as her entire family waits for water in the queue from early morning, several girls in other under-privileged families are not as lucky.
The scene is ditto across the city, irrespective of locality or time of day. Tuesday, which was celebrated as World Water Day, was no different for the people here facing a water crisis. This is Latur city, a municipal corporation of around 5 lakh people in the drought-prone Marathwada region of Maharashtra. The district headquarters, reeling under severe drought for months together now, has caught the nation’s attention with the district administration imposing prohibitory orders invoking section 144 of CrPC at six of the major water tanker filling points.
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A few deaths, at and around crowded water filling points, have been reported recently. But, authorities have confirmed that none of them were directly connected to the water crisis. However, scuffles and arguments have become more common in the past few days.
“My entire family has been here since 3 am. We have brought food too from home as we would have to wait for at least 12 hours to fill some water,” says Sakshi, pointing towards the long queue. Mohammed Haroon, who comes from the same locality as Sakshi — Iqbal Chowk — quips, “Authorities have promised us drinking water once every eight days. If we sit and wait for that, we will never have water to drink.”
Sumanbai Jogdand, an elderly woman in her sixties, says she has come from Anjali Nagar, which is about three kilometres away. “The corporation says we would be given 200 litres per family once in eight days. But the water tanker has come to my locality only twice in the past four months,” she rues.
Dande Dileep, a daily wager from nearby Balaji Nagar, could not go for work as he had to fetch water for his family. “We get a lot of promises, and the rich and powerful get all the water. For them, there is no scarcity here,” he scowled. Each family carries more than two pots, and a heated argument next to the public tap here is inevitable.
Dilip Gaekwad, supervisor for the tanker water filling point tells Express that situation is under control at the moment after imposition of section 144.
According to him, it is the local politicians, corporators and their supporters who create a scene at the water filling stations.
“As many as 18 tankers are doing six trips each between 8 am and 7 pm from Vivekananda Chowk everyday. These are water tankers of 6,000 litres’ capacity. The public taps are open 24 hours a day,” said Gaekwad. “A few politicians come with their supporters to hijack water tankers to take them to their localities. Barring them, everything is as smooth as possible,” he says.
Apparently, not only politicians, mobs led by women too are notorious here for hijacking water tankers, sometimes even private tankers.
To let one know the gravity of the issue, one among the hundreds waiting for water warns: “Jal jeevan hota hai. Aur jal ke liye jeevan lene ki naubat bhi aa sakti hai (Water is life. There could even come a time when a life could be taken for want of water).”