| A resident returns to her home at Pokharia village after collecting drinking water from the forest. Picture by Amit Kumar |
At the crack of dawn, Basanti Soren (52) leaves her hut at Gurmaha in Barhat block in Jamui district with an earthen pot on her head in search of drinking water.
“I have to walk over 5-6km to collect drinking water from a stream in the forest. With the onset of summer, the village well dries up. My son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren and many others from our hamlet have migrated along with cattle to other villages where water is available,” she said. “I remained to look after our home and fields,” she said.
This summer migration for water is not restricted to Basanti’s hamlet. It happens in over 800 such hamlets in the very inaccessible terrain of south-eastern Bihar districts like Jamui, Munger, Lakhisarai and Banka, said Kishore Jaishwal, a drinking water activist in Munger.
All these areas happen to be Maoist strongholds. Bureaucrats and public representatives from this region usually avoid commenting on why, despite having central funds for security-related expenditure and special area development funds, people in the area do not have access to drinking water. Not surprisingly, people here are unmoved by the hype surrounding the general elections. “What is the use of voting for corrupt politicians? Despite their promises, we have to migrate for water every summer,” asked Biro Hembrom of Chormara village in Jamui. She and her family recently moved to Mahajanwa, a hamlet atop the Sringirishi hills in neighbouring Lakhisarai district, for drinking water.
Shankari Devi of Pokharia hamlet in Banka lost her cool when asked about the elections. “We have to collect water from a dirty ditch in the forest during summers. Vote is of no importance to us who are denied even water. Only the party men (Maoists) come to enquire about our welfare,” she said.
Similarly, there is no hype surrounding the April 17 elections in many hamlets under Maoist-affected Haveli Kharagpur of Munger Lok Sabha seat where drinking water and irrigation facilities remain a distant dream. Most candidates in the fray in Jamui, Munger and Banka constituencies avoided questions on missing drinking water facilities and civic amenities. They blame each other for the problem.
“Lalu was in power for over 15 years and Nitish has been busy selling dreams to the people, alleged Samajwadi Party’s Munger candidate Rambadan Roy. People will teach Nitish Kumar a lesson this time for denying basic amenities to the residents of rural areas,” alleged Ravi Shanker Prasad, an LJP leader from Jhajha.
The JD(U)’s Jamui candidate Uday Narayan Chaudhary and Munger candidate Lallan Singh were not available for comment. Agriculture minister Narendra Singh refused to admit any failure by the Nitish government. He said: “Water is an age-old problem in this region. How can one blame the Nitish government?”