The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Now, even water does not come for free

Hubli, March 12: Taking a cue from big “mineral” water companies, enterprising bore-well owners in villages of the dry districts of Hubli and Haveri are cashing in on the early onset of summer by selling water.

Prices for a pot of water — containing close to two litres — range from Re 1 to Rs 3, depending on the extent of scarcity in different localities.

Hundreds of villagers have taken to this “commercial venture” for the first time, denting the spirit of compassion and camaraderie that governed social life in these villages. “Earlier, bore-well owners used to give water for free during times of scarcity. This year, the drought seems to be coming in early but the landlords have started charging money and we are forced to pay,” said Ratnamma, an agricultural labourer at Shiaggon in Haveri.

She buys water once in three days. On the other two days, she treks over 5 km to get water from a pond that is fast drying up.

Shivappa, a small farmer of the same locality who has taken to the new business, counters the pleas of those like Ratnamma with the argument that when big companies can sell bottled water for higher rates, why can’t he sell water. “Our water is as good as the bottled water you get in big towns and are much cheaper,” Shivappa said. Packaged water is available in Hubli and Haveri, but the sales are confined mostly to the district headquarters. Bore-well water is the norm in most of the villages.

Shivappa’s water trade is two-dimensional. He sells one pot of bore-well water for Rs 2. But he also has a tottapatti (garden well) where you can draw water for half the price.

Although it is still early summer, people in the districts of Hubli, Haveri and Dharwad have been facing acute drinking water shortage for the past fortnight.

“We have not had such an early summer in the near past. It seems we are headed for one of the worst droughts,” said a government official who tries to alleviate water scarcity in these districts. Shiaggon is one of the worst-affected taluks, where monsoon has failed for two consecutive years, he added.

The government’s initiatives to tackle the increasing water shortage have not been effective. Many municipalities in the region, including Shiaggon, supply water through public taps for just two days in a month.

“These two days are virtually fortnightly festival days, which witness not only joy but fierce jousting among people,” said the official. “It actually leads to a specific law and order problem that we call water skirmishes,” added a local police officer.

As in other parts of the state, Hubli and Haveri have some pending drinking water supply projects, the most important being the Varada project that was cleared in 1993. The government claims to have spent about Rs 20 crore on this project, but it has done little to help the villagers.

In the meantime, bore-well owners continue their sales, although their own water resources are fast depleting with summer intensifying day by day.

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