Why Ganga Action Plan is a pipe dream
Jaiswal said the obnoxious odours marked that our destination was close. He waved the driver to stop the vehicle near what looked like a large tank. Muddy, frothy water was issuing from a corroded pipe. The tannery stench was back.
The source of the odour was the sulphide in the treated water, Jaiswal explained "Sulphide compounds are used in tanneries and they are corrosive. That's why the pipeline is corroded." As we walked around, I realized my companion was a known figure in the area. Quite a crowd had gathered, relating their ailments skin diseases, stomach and breathing problems. Why, I wondered? Jaiswal knew the answer the murky water also had chromium and was being used for irrigation.
He pointed to a tube well, some 450 metre deep, in one of the fields close by. This was sanctioned two years after villagers protested and was meant to provide water to five villages Sheikhpur, Pyondi, Jana, Mawaiya and Kishanpur. But supplies to Kishanpur had been disrupted for the past six months because a pipe had broken somewhere, the villagers complained. They had opened up to me by then. One of them, Guddu Singh, even offered a mug full of the frothy water to drink.
Refusing the drink would have been an embarrassment. But I didn't have to do much to avoid it. A quick glance at the rusting poles nearby was enough to divert my host's attention from the water he had offered me. "The poles aren't exactly very old. It's chemicals from the tannery water that are causing them to rust," he said. The corrosive effect was everywhere, from bicycles rims to motorcycle mudguards. "The government does not allow my auto rickshaw into the city since its floor has almost rusted away." The villagers were paying a cess on this chemical-laced water, Jaiswal informed me. "This was before 2000 when we started work in the area. Officials became less exacting after the villagers drove away the babus that had come to collect the cess."
"This place used to be famous for roses, now you find none. Mango, neem and mahua trees have dried up. The paddy seems to have ripened but because of the water, there is no grain in the ears. Production has come down. Earlier it was 1,200-1,500 kg per acre; it is nothing more than 500 kg now. Look at the grass, it has all dried up," complained another villager, Madhav. Many looked accusingly at Baburam, an employee of the municipality who oversees the work of the tube well. "I am just an employee of the municipality," he apologized.
The crowd had become quite voluble by then.There were also some sceptics in the cacophony of complaints, sure of another report appearing in the media only to be ignored.
It was time to go. As I left for Lucknow, I wasn't sure if I hadn't been another hokey journalist snooping on other people's miseries.
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