The upper Vaitarna Dam in Nashik's Trimbakeshwar taluka, with a capacity of 330 million cubic metres, supplies water to the residents of Mumbai who stay 120 km away from dam site. But less than 2 km away from the shore of the dam, women in the tribal settlement of Barde-Chi-Wadi, have to rappel down a 60-foot-long well using flimsy ropes, to ensure that their families get water to drink.
Social activists in the area lament that in spite of the area being so close to Mumbai and Nashik - the two most developed cities in the state - the problems faced by these women do not find resonance in the election campaign of any party in Nashik Lok Sabha constituency, which will go to polls on April 29.
Barde chi wadi lies less than 2 KM’s away from Vaitarna dam which pumps water to Mumbai 120 KM’s away. Mumbai gets 100 to 307 litres water per capita per day. To collect the same amount of water women of Barde chi wadi would have to rappell in the well 15 times.@IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/o8EJDHL5cQ
- zeeshan shaikh (@zeeshansahafi) April 25, 2019
For the last two months, Asha Bhaurao Pardhi has been waking up at 2 am to beat the waterhole rush that is witnessed around the only well in the tribal hamlet of 50 families. She tucks in her sari tight and rapples down the 60-foot-deep well with the help of only a torchlight that her friend and neighbour Mangal Mengal holds.
This is an annual affair for women of the village in April and May, when the water level drops. With the area witnessing less than adequate rainfall this year, their problem has been accentuated further.
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The administration had laid down a pipeline, which would pump water from the well to two storage tanks in the village. The villagers claim that both the pump and the pipeline are non-functional and the government has not taken any interest in repairing them in spite of repeated complaints to local leaders.
The women have now been forced to become experts in rappelling. While there have been no accidents so far, the women claim that they fear for their lives everytime they hold on to the flimsy rope.
"Only women have the courage to go down the well. The men of the village avoid doing it. I fear for my life every time I am forced to go down. But if I don't, I know that my family will not have water to drink," Asha Pardhi said.
Every household in the area needs around 20 pails of water for their daily needs. Filling these pails can take up to five to six hours on an average. An average Mumbaikar, meanwhile, gets around 100 to 307 litres of water for his personal use, which is supplied through taps.
"We spend five to six hours every day to get water, as close to 50 families need water from the same well. If we want to save time, we have to do it in the night, which is dangerous," Mangal Mengal said.
Local activists claimed that this problem hardly finds resonance in the election campaigns of parties. "Mumbai survives because of the water it gets from this area. Ironically, people who live a stone's throw away from the reservoir, do not get water. This is a massive problem, yet hardly anyone chooses to speak about it," social activist Bhagwan Madhe said.
There are, however, some politicians like seven-time CPI(M) MLA J P Gavit, who are speaking about the issue. But Gavit is contesting from the adjoining constituency of Dindori, while hamlets like Barde-Chi-Wadi are located in Nashik.
"Our main issue would be to ensure that the water that flows westwards from this area either into the Arabian Sea or gets perted to Gujarat, should be used to provide relief to the drought-hit regions of north Maharashtra and Marathwada. Why should Maharashtra's share of water get perted to any other state, especially Gujarat?" Gavit said.
The women in the village speak in unison when asked whom they will vote for. "Our vote will go to that inpidual who puts an end to this circus," Asha Pardhi said.