Water of contention

By Himanshu Thakkar
Published: Sunday 30 June 1996

In the 1996 ninth general elections in India, water as an issue figured prominently in at least nine states. Among them all, Nalgonda in the Telengana region in Andhra Pradesh takes the cake. Nearly 500 farmers of the Telengana Jalasadra Samakhiya filed nomination papers, aiming to disrupt the electoral process to protest against the non-implementation of the Srikakulam Left Bank Canal and the Sriramsagar-II irrigation projects, which had figured as issues in the past elections too.

Similarly, in Modakurichy in Tamil Nadu, 1,029 people had filed nominations to protest against non-implementation of irrigation projects. In Rajasthan, 13 villages of Shadra tehsil in Ganaganagar, two villages of Pali, and one village in Churu, Barmer and Chittorgarh each, boycotted the polls protesting against "insufficient water supply". At least three villages of Bikaner district boycotted the elections, their slogan being: "water first and the votes will follow".

Not a single vote was cast in Chawwa village in Haryana as its 10-year-old water problem remained unresolved. In Gujarat, the Saurashtra Lok Manch asked all the campaigning parties to keep off the water issue on account of their inability to resolve the crisis. Seven villages in Khedadistrict boycotted the polls demanding dean drinking water instead of the contaminated water that they get from Ahmedabad's industries. In Mehasana and Banaskantha too, "no water, no vote" was the refrain.

A crucial poll issue in Madhya Pradesh's Hoshangabad district was the plight of some 7,000 tribals ousted by the Tawa dam, tribals inhabiting the Bori sanctuary and those displaced by the Itars! Proof Range. A banner in Allahabad barred politicians from entering several areas protesting water shortage. The situation was worse in Azamgarh, Drumariaganj, Basti and Ballia where people are forced to drink muddy water from hand pumps.

In Darjeeling, Katimpong and Kurseong in North Bengal, the battle was intense considering that drinking water sells at Rs five to 10 a bucket in Darjeeling. Delhi too, witnessed poll boycott threats over water by citizens in Chittaranjan Park. Truely, the crisis seems to have reached its watershed over many more elections to come, unless effective measures are adopted.

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