In Gade Khud village, just 17 kilometers from Srinagar city everything comes to standstill when a government installed community tap comes to life. Official apathy has turned this picturesque village into Kashmir’s Thar, Riyaz Ul Khaliq reports.
It is 10:30 in the morning but schools in Gade Khud, a small nondescript village in Sonawari in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district, wears a deserted look. There are no students visible. It is just empty classrooms with abandoned school bags lying scattered on cheap floor matting. It is like everybody has left in a hurry. But to where?
A few meters down the road from government primary school a large crowd has assembled. People wearing colorful traditional clothes jostle with each other. From a distance it looks like a beautiful motif where different colors move rhythmically on a subtle sound. But it is not a festival. As one goes near, the sound turns out to be desperate cries from women, children, men, old and all. They are all desperately trying to get near the source of water. It is the most sought after commodity in Gade Khud, a beautiful piece of land that is surrounded by vast mountains sparkling with snow.
Apart from agriculture that keeps villagers busy in this part of Kashmir, it is their quest for clean drinking water that has now became their prime occupation. Every morning people assemble around a small tap that is fitted at the end of a thin steel pipe and wait till it starts dispensing water. The sound of running tap is like music to their ears.
Men, women, children in their school uniforms, newly married women with fresh henna on their hands, carrying large cans of all shapes and sizes rush to book their spot near the tap. “When this tap comes to life everything else comes to standstill in this village,” said an elderly fellow who is stroking his flowing salt and pepper beard in desperation. “Our lives are held hostage by water,” he adds sarcastically.
Gh Mohi ud din Raja is a respected figure in the hamlet. For him, the water problem he and his fellow villagers are facing is, “I dreamt of a place bestowed with rivers, streams, lakes, fresh springs; but I am not able to drink a drop of water!”
Around 17 kilometers from heart of Srinagar city, Gade Khud and its adjoining village, Najan together has a population of about 5000 souls.
The village has three government run schools and a private English medium school. But schools in these twin villages often remain deserted as students are seen carrying large storage tanks of water. “Water is life,” said a 10th standard student who was sitting on top of a large plastic drum that he has bought to collect water. Everywhere students clad in their school uniforms are seen lining up to fill their pots ‘hastily’ so as to join their classes back.
Gade Khud and Najan are being supplied ground water through a tube well from Urin, another village of Sonawari since last year. And once in a week they are also supplied water through Diver-Parihaspora water scheme. But the villagers say that all the water supplied to them is dependent on the availability of electricity. “Our life is power dependent. If there is no power, there would be no food for supper,” Raja says.
The villagers claim that the PHE authorities stationed at Urin water scheme have power generator with them but they are not using it. “The power generator lies idle at the tube well and is not being used during power shutdowns,” claims another resident of the area.
The condition of the water availability is so harsh that not a single house has a regular tap connection to it. The main water pipe that feeds the villagers has four water points where from the women and men folk alike stand in lines for their turns to get water.
“Can you imagine we don’t have taps in our homes,” says Raja. “But what is the fun of having taps when there is no water,” added another villager sarcastically.
The water from Urin water scheme is usually supplied in the morning hours and that too for 15 to 30 minutes only, locals claim. “Short timing is the worst problem,” Showkat says adding that the long queues often result in cat brawls among the women folk.
The area is being represented by sitting MLA Sonawari and present Higher Education Minister, Muhammad Akbar Lone. The villagers allege that their representative in state legislature has only visited them once since he won 2008 elections. “He has only paid a single visit to this area and he is very much aware of our plight but he is doing nothing,” contends Raja.
The PHE division Sopore also doesn’t pay heed to the problems faced by them and people claim to have visited them hundreds of times. “They don’t listen to us. What can we expect from them,” asks Raja.
The area has a single irrigation canal flowing through it which is used by village womenfolk to wash clothes. “On one side of canal women wash clothes while on other side cattle drink water,” said Showkat Ahmad, a private school teacher from the area.
But this year due to dirt in the canal a number of animals fell severely ill and some of them even died. “The water flows only for five months in a year in the canal from April to August,” says Showkat.
Locals blame that areas around these taps have become source of water borne diseases. This year the Sonawari belt saw out break of Hepatitis-B. Interestingly there is no primary health centre in the area. The doctors who visited these villages, besides other things advised locals to drink boiled water. “We have to go to Sumbal hospital or Pattan for the treatment,” says Showkat.
The ‘tragedy’ that befalls the residents of Gade Khud and Najan everyday puts a question mark over the port folio their MLA holds.