25 March 2006
Water gives life. But when scarce, makes savages of people.
Last week in Kalimpong, the infernal problem of water scarcity drew it’s, perhaps, first blood. There have always been skirmishes among residents of neighbourhoods in hill towns during the lean months. However, murder was unheard of. According to newspaper reports, two men fought over water in a nearby dhara (spring). Such fights are a daily fact in the hills. No one expected that it would end with one of the men brutally murdering the other.
The incident took place when the town was going through a torrid time. Everyone was complaining about water problems. It forced the normally silent-sufferers to come out on the streets and demonstrate. People with empty buckets marched to the Kalimpong Municipality and gheraoed authorities there.
The water situation is getting worse with every year, because nothing is being done to alleviate the long-standing crisis. The only thing that our ostentatious VIPs who occupy chairs of responsibility can do is look up to the sky and wait for the rains.
They do keep up the pretences of course. They will tell you they are talking to this agency and that agency at the Centre, at the state level, and have extracted this and that assurance. But this brood of so-called authorities are not bothered, which is best exemplified by Subash Ghisingh’s repeated denials of water problems. Until of course, he could not resist the temptation to be present at the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Balason drinking water project recently, forcing him to grudgingly accept that there is indeed water scarcity in the hills.
However, people of Kalimpong and Kurseong must know that Ghisingh did, on that very occasion, say that these two towns did not have water problems. There was no need for him to make that call when he was actually speaking on the occasion of the Balason project’s unveiling. The only thing that could possibly be the reason for his utterance is to reassure the chief minister that he comes cheap.
While Ghisingh continues to dwell in his make-believe world, our other authorities refuse to move their backsides on the issue because they all have their “special arrangements.” These people either have tankers regularly supplying them water at no cost, less cost or official cost; or, they have illegal hook-ups directly from the water mains. They have no clue what it is like to regularly have a pile of dirty dishes, dirty clothes, not enough water to cook or bathe, or even shave.
How these “authorities” under such bleak circumstances, still go around self importantly this mind will never grasp. Congratulations to Kalimpong for having organised a demonstration against this glorified ineptitude. (Here and in Kurseong, we just bitch and whine, which reflects more our impotence than anything). Kalimpong citizens have always been more responsible, ready to defend their rights and self-respect when challenged.
Recently, a retired-marine engineer from Kalimpong took a well-known private bank to the district consumer court for delay in services. The district court ended up ordering the bank to pay compensation for the harassment caused to the customer. How many of us like the engineer would bother to complain? In other words, how many of us possess the integrity and the self-respect to revolt against things that demean us? For two decades now we have been humiliated by having to wash, cook and bathe with a water supply that is nearly 70 per cent below the national average. We have been reduced to existing like savages.
Or is this the precursor of things to come under Sixth Schedule tribal living?