Why Barangabari alone?

muddy water
Source: Google


This newspaper on Monday carried a news story on page 6 about a village called Barangabari where people have been collecting water from rivulets and puddles of muddy water for all practical purposes – from drinking to cooking and washing and bathing. While Barangabari is a village on the India-Bhutan border in Udalguri district in northern Assam, one should not presume the water story of this village to be an isolated one. It was only a few days ago that a news item released by a news agency from Dibrugarh had told a similar story, which was not from a far-flung village on any border area, but in the vicinity of the industrial town of Namrup. It was about Hapjan, a village where hundreds of residents – like those of Barangabari in Udalguri – have been drinking water collected from nullahs and holes for over 50 years now. Unfortuntely for this country, shortage of safe drinking water, whether in villages or towns, had not become an issue in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election. Hence, the newly-elected MP from Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency, or for that matter the person who has been elected for the second consecutive term from Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency and has found a berth in the Union council of ministers, do not know exactly how many villages in their respective constituencies do not have safe drinking water sources. Nor do the remaining twelve MPs from Assam in the new Lok Sabha probably are aware of how many thousand families in towns and villages of their respective constituencies have been collecting water from rivulets, nullahs, holes and other unsafe sources for all purposes including drinking. The 126 hon’ble MLAs of the state too probably do not have any such statistics with them about the drinking water scenario in their respective constituencies. No research scholar probably will be able to find out any document even in the public health engineering department which gives an accurate picture – along with list of names of villages and urban localities – of the safe drinking water scenario of Assam. Access to safe drinking water has been a grave problem for the whole of India, especially in rural areas where non-availability of usable water has resulted in decades-old sanitation and health problems. Official records say that in 1980, only about one per cent of India’s rural areas had access to safe usable water. By 2013, that had increased to 30 per cent or so, but most parts of rural India continue to reel under an acute shortage of proper access to safe drinking water. A WaterAid report in 2016 had placed Indian among the worst countries in the world for the number of people without availability or access to safe water. An estimated 76 million people in India had no access to a safe water supply in 2016-17, and the situation is only getting more serious every passing day. According to a forecast made by Asian Development Bank, India will have a water deficit of 50 per cent by 2030. Estimates made by the Union Ministry of Water Resources say that the country’s current water requirements is around 1100 billion cubic metres per year, which is estimated to go up to around 1200 billion cubic metres by 2025 and 1447 billion cubic metres by 2050. It is however not that India is a water-scarce country. Along with having major rivers, the country also receives an average annual rainfall of 1170 millimeters. But lack of sensitization with regard to both conservation of water and pollution of water sources, coupled with poor planning and rampant corruption in implementation of projects, have resulted in a large part of the population for whom water has become more of a curse than a boon. With the first session of Lok Sabha round the corner (as also the monsoon session of the state assemblies) , can every MP (and MLA)from Assam, and for that matter all the Northeastern states, ask the concerned minister for a list of villages in their respective constituencies where people do not have access to safe drinking water as on date?