Ever since a hand pump went dry at Khatdeur village of Sonbhadra around three weeks ago, farmer Prabhu Maurya has no other option but to walk half-a-kilometre thrice every day to a submersible pump in Majghawa Chauhan area.
Water crisis has returned to haunt Maurya and thousands of locals residing in Deori Khas, Surahi, Biranki, Susund, Mahav and other villages in Gorawal area which has been declared a dark zone due to over exploitation of groundwater.
“The level of groundwater has depleted below 250 feet. In certain pockets, it is beyond that which has made the situation alarming. The only hand pump of the village went dry three weeks ago. We lodged a complaint with the block authorities but got only assurances,” Maurya said.
“When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in UP last year, we thought concrete steps would be taken to address the issue. A year has passed but the situation remains the same,” Sajan Kumar of Majhigavan Chauhan village said.
What is even more alarming for the residents this year is that water crisis has started about three weeks in advance.
According to residents, a long stretch of Belan river which is the main source of water for many villages, has dried up with only a few patches remaining.
No water is left in Ritthi Dam, around two kilometres off Khatdeur and cracks have emerged in the dried up soil. “Water crisis is a serious issue. Belan river has dried up and we have to arrange water for cattle from other sources. Even ponds have dried up,” Sajan Kumar, a resident of Dedhi, said.
Those who can afford are buying water while others are banking on private tube wells in their respective areas.
“Water crisis will be more critical this year as most of the wells have gone dry. As water level has depleted, tube wells are not fetching water,” Ajay Kumar, another villager, said.
“The critical situation of groundwater level came to light during boring at a location in Ghorawal area. Drilling up to 1,200 feet was done but water was not found,” Jamuna Prasad, a local resident claimed.
Vindu Maurya, a student, said he had to spend an hour in the morning to arrange water from nearby locations.
“So far as ground water level is concerned, Ghorawal and Robertsganj are dark zones respectively. A massive awareness drive on rainwater harvesting is required to charge groundwater table and find a solution to the problem,” social activist Nandlal Master said.
There are over 250 villages in Ghorawal area and around 50 are in rocky pockets of the district where the situation is alarming.
Pradeep Lal, a resident of Devari Kath area, said: “We have to walk for a kilometre to fetch water. By mid-March, ponds, wells and tube wells go dry every year but situation has turned bad this year as ponds dried up in the last week of February.”
The situation is no different in adjoining Vishundhari village where people have to walk over a mile for drinking water.
Local administration is aware of the problem and the officials said they have identified 18 ponds and wells each which have dried up.
The officials said they were planning to release water in a canal so that the cattle could get water to quench their thirst. “Four water tankers have been deployed to supply water to villages,” an official said.
Sub-divisional magistrate, Ghoraval, Shadab Aslam said the dried up ponds and wells had already been identified. “Water will be released to the canal to recharge ponds. Water supply to villages is being ensured through water tankers,” he said.
Aslam said four tankers had already been deployed and four more would be deployed soon.
A senior official at the department of groundwater, Sunil Kumar, said the situation was critical in Ghorawal. “Pre-monsoon groundwater level was below 9.16 metres in 2016 which depleted to 9.64 metres in 2017 in Ghorawal which is now a semi-critical zone. After monsoon, ground water level was recorded 6.25 metres and 6.28 metres in 2016 and 2017 respectively,” Kumar said.
“The situation is no different in Robertsganj where groundwater level was 10.18 metres below the ground in 2016. Situation further worsened in 2017 and water level dipped to 10.28 metres. After monsoon, the groundwater level increased to 6.21 metres and 6.53 metres in 2016 and 2017,” he said.
Kumar said the situation had worsened due to overexploitation of groundwater and lack of steps required to recharge the water level. “This is possible through rainwater harvesting. We carried out awareness drives in the past and are planning many more this year,” he said.