Scorching and dry summers where temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius are never easy, more so for women who are the primary stakeholders in water management. Relief is minimal if you live in a village in Uttar Pradesh. You look to your elected government for aid or expect the MP who has ‘adopted’ your village to provide a solution. What happens if the solution is part of the problem?
This is the case of Raval, the village ‘adopted’ by the Mathura BJP MP Hema Malini in November 2014 under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana—a rural development project that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched in October that year.
In this village, which is 9 km from Mathura, the ‘dream girl’ who has been modelling for Kent Water Purifiers with her daughters, has got a water purifying plant, but the villagers are charged ₹200 a month to be able to ‘avail’ purified drinking water. While adopting this village, Hema Malini, had tom-tomed women’s empowerment.
Water is a basic human right, but a disgruntled villager pointed out that, “If you do not have money, you cannot take water from this plant.” Every family here has been given an ATM-like card, which people call “water card”.
Displaying her card, Rajmati complained, “If we do not have money in the card, we cannot drink water. ₹200 in a month is a big amount for us.”
“We used to fetch drinking water from the hand pumps nearby, but it runs dry in summers,” added her neighbour, Veerawati, whose husband works as a labourer. “In the name of the maintenance and electricity bills, we have to part with a major share of our hard-earned money. We have never seen the bill or how much they spend on maintenance,” demurred Veerawati.
Contradicting these statements, the plant operator asserted that no one paid any money for the water they utilise a month. However, the sarpanch of the village, Vijay Singh, conceded that people have been asked to pay for the water but he maintained ignorance about the electricity bill and maintenance cost charged from the villagers. He asserted that he had been asked by the representative of the Hema Malini to collect money in lieu of providing them clean water.
Advocate Asit Shankar, who is the conduit between the villagers and the MP, sneered, “We take money for the water because people do not understand the value of the drinking water.” Justifying his statement, he stressed, “People use purified water to clean clothes and dishes. That is why we began charging a fee. We provide clean drinking water at very nominal charge. Just 10 paisa for one litre. For ₹2, they get 20 litres of clean, purified drinking water.”
The water purifying plant was installed at a cost of ₹18 lakh in the village by Surat-based Hi-Tech Sweet Water Technologies Pvt Ltd. “Funds for this project were not spent from the ₹5 crore allotted under this scheme. It was installed by the business house,” clarified Shankar.
“This plant was donated to the village under corporate social responsibility. We have installed two more plants in Hema Malini’s constituency. It was up to the Panchayat to decide on the nominal fee, which would be utilised to maintain the plant,” said Bhadresh Kapdi, project manager with Hi-Tech Sweet Water Technologies.
This is not the only problem staring at the village. Filthy lanes, open drains, dingy toilets and a dung-stained dilapidated wall with a black plaque dedicated to the “Dream Girl” stand as the billboard for the project and Swachha Bharat Abhiyan – crumbling exterior with a battered interior.
(The story was first published on Oct 7, 2017 and has been replugged ahead of voting for phase 2 two of the Lok Sabha elections on April 18. BJP’s sitting MP Hema Malini faces a tough re-election from the Mathura Lok Sabha constituency).