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Lok Sabha 2024: Water crisis in Bihar’s Gaya remains major concern for voters

Pinki Devi, a resident of Gewalbigha locality in the heart of the city of Gaya, 
| Photo Credit: Amit Bhelari

As the summer draws forth, several localities in Gaya face problems stemming from water shortages. In the Gewalbigha area, a Dalit dominant area, the problem is especially acute. Pinki Devi, a resident of Gewalbigha locality in the heart of the city of Gaya, has to fetch five buckets of water twice a day amid a scarcity of water in the area.

Although there is a pipeline in the area, it does not suffice given that the water levels have gone down lower than 150 feet. The only source of water for the people in the area passes through a drainpipe.

Tap water is available two times a day morning for half an hour. With some 25 odd taps in the area, the half hour window is all the time the locals get to utilise the incoming water.

“We can collect as much as water in these two half hour slots; we wash our utensils and clothes, as well as bathe the children within this time. We face this problem every summer. Our houses are located up high on the hill, so we are forced to travel some distance to reach here and then carry the water back,” Ms. Devi said while bathing her two children.

As elections are nigh, politicians waltz in with promises of bringing water to the nearby Phalgu river. But each time the status quo marches on.

Sagar Ram, another resident of the locality, said, “Politicians come every election season and promise us to provide safe drinking water. But nothing ever happens. This water passes through the drain; you can see how ‘safe’ it is. And yet, we have no other option but to use this water. We use it for nearly everything, including cooking. We are living a pathetic life over here.”

Every summer, many villages like Dumrawa, Bankebazar, Siddhpur, Jingatiya, and others in the Sherghati, Imamganj, and Barachatti area face water scarcity. The villagers are compelled to walk for miles in order to fetch mere buckets of water.

Former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is contesting on the Gaya Lok Sabha seat this time around, and he is locking horns with with Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate Kumar Sarvajeet. Both claim they can solve the water crisis but there are hardly any takers for their promises.

“I know the people of Gaya face a water crisis every summer. Therefore, I have decided that once I am elected MP the first thing to do will be to bring water from the Sone river to the Phalgu river by interlinking the rivers. The Centre is working to link the rivers so that those area facing water crisis can get a proper water supply,” Mr. Manjhi said.

Mr. Sarjaveet, who is an MLA from the Bodh Gaya Assembly seat, said, “If the distribution of water is carried out properly in the Gaya town, I don’t think there would be any problems. We just need to strengthen the present infrastructure so that proper water supply can be done.”

Brijnandan Pathak, a social activist from Gaya, who has been fighting to free the Phalgu river from encroachments, told The Hindu that there is no plan to store the water during the monsoon which leads to the crisis in Gaya.

“Water crisis in Gaya is the oldest problem of the city and none of the governments have ever made any proper plan to solve it. Despite having several schemes like Har Ghar Nal Jal and Jal Jivan Hariyali, nothing has worked. In some places in Gaya, the level of groundwater has gone down to as low as 400 feet. Even the rubber dam has not resolved the problem. There is no plan to store the monsoon rain which could be used for all purposes from drinking to irrigation. The Phalgu river is already encroached at several places and sand is now missing from the river bed,” Mr. Pathak said.

The Gaya seat will vote in the first phase on April 19 and leaders are making all attempts to convince the people that the water crisis will be solved.

The city of Gaya is located on the bank of the sacred Phalgu, a river which remains dry for nine months. Even the construction of rubber dam over Phalgu river last year has not resolved the problems of the people of Gaya, and attempts to strengthen the groundwater of the river have proved unfeasible.

According to Hindu scripture, the Phalgu river was cursed by Sita; locals believe that the water flows below the sub-surface. It is referred to as ‘Atahshila’ by locals in reference to its parched surface.

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