Village of woe

The water woes of Patti Pachgai village in Uttar Pradesh are being compounded by the incompetent responses of the state government and local NGOs. Even rainwater harvesting, touted as the panacea to many ills, has failed to provide succour...

By Sutapa Ghosh
Published: Saturday 31 May 2003

Village of woe

Inefficient rainwater harvesti (Credit: Surya Sen / CSE)The water woes of Patti Pachgai village in Agra district of Uttar Pradesh (up) are being compounded by the incompetent responses of the state government and local non-governmental organisations (ngos). Even rainwater harvesting, touted as the panacea to many ills, has failed to provide succour to the village because of inefficient construction of the required structures. The village, about 12 to 15 kilometres from Agra township on the Agra-Gwalior Road, has recorded high levels of fluoride in groundwater. But what has worsened its plight is the confusion and indecision of the concerned officials in tackling the problem. The state government and local ngos have tried many solutions -- piping in water from a nearby village, installing handpumps, commissioning a tubewell and harvesting rainwater -- but in vain. "The villagers continue to drink high-fluoride water and suffer from joint pains, skeletal and bone deformities," says Girish Chand Sharma, hakimji (advocate) of the village, who is leading the crusade against fluorosis.

Patti Pachgai's villagers first highlighted their troubles in 1988, when they approached the then district magistrate. But nothing moved until 1998, when the matter was reported to the prime minister by an ex-parliament member, Bhagwan Rawat, a former resident of the village.

"All of a sudden this village came into the limelight and up Jal Nigam carried out cent per cent sampling of all drinking water sources," informs Sharma. The report confirmed high fluoride levels in groundwater, with some sources recording levels as high as 18.31 milligrammes per litre (mg/l). The World Health Organisation (who) has stipulated a maximum permissible guideline value of 1.5 mg/l of fluoride in drinking water.
Shoddy schemes To 'tackle' the problem, up Jal Nigam drafted a Rs 1.6 crore project in 1999 called Patti Pachgai Group of Villages Water Supply Scheme. The plan was to provide drinking water to seven fluorosis-affected villages by commissioning one tubewell. This tubewell was to be constructed in Patti Pachgai, which comes under a 'dark zone'. But the scheme never got approved, not because the village was in a dark zone, but because the financial outlay was considered too high.

Another such plan, but with a lesser outlay of Rs 43 lakh and covering only four villages, has recently been drafted by up Jal Nigam. The Central Ground Water Board (cgwb) will soon commission the tubewell in Patti Pachgai, knowing well that the village falls in a 'dark zone'. Explains S A H Zaidi, assistant engineer at up Jal Nigam, "The tubewell will draw water from the third and last aquifer at a depth of 240 metres." Complains Brijmohan Shastri, former pradhan (headperson) of the village, "Rather than recharging the aquifer, the government is digging deeper into the ground. Such a scheme has no sustainability." The government had previously tried to address the fluorosis issue in Patti Pachgai by piping in drinking water from neighbouring Itora village. But the supply is erratic and water is received once in about 15 days, complain the villagers. Currently, the only other sources of water are the handpumps that dot the entire village.
No respite The failure of the state government is matched by local ngos. Mahila Shilp Kala Kendra (mskk), an Agra-based ngo, supported by the Council for Advanced People's Action and Rural Technology (capart), is promoting income-generation and rooftop rainwater harvesting schemes in the village. But the implementation of these projects is far from satisfactory. According to P V Swami, technical assistant at mskk, the village pond is being desilted to promote groundwater recharge. At present this pond is being used as a sewage dump. The villagers doubt if the desilting will be effective. "It is necessary to first divert the sewage by laying down sewer lines," says Rakesh Sharma, a villager.

Somewhat similar is the fate of rooftop rainwater harvesting. Huge ferro-cement tanks have been constructed in some village houses to capture rainwater from half-completed terraces. "These structures are just showpieces for us. The construction material is of poor quality, which can lead to water leakage. Also we do not know how to harvest rainwater in these tanks and use it for daily chores," says Shastri.

The fruitless schemes and endless surveys have dwindled the villagers' hopes. A total of about Rs 1.2 crore has been sanctioned till now with no real gains accrued. The sporadic measures of both the state government and the ngo sector have not brought significant relief to the village of Patti Pachgai.

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