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August 16, 2016 Tuesday 12:22:49 PM IST
Water Aplenty... What a Pity Potable Water is Scarce!

No, no. It is not correct. Drinking water is available and in plenty. Dozens of different bottling units offer hundreds of brands of drinking water in attractive disposable containers at competitive rates. Of course at prices a bit higher than that of milk. But cheaper than Cola or Pepsi or other soft drinks.

I was wondering. What about the poor illiterate Indian village leader I met in a small tehsil place in the present Chattisgarh state a few decades back. He wanted drinking water instead of contraceptives as the first priority in the government initiated five year development programs for his families.

Did he get drinking water?

It was a gathering of village elders organized by the government. There were about 100 of them, all representing villages with population of around 300-700. None of their villages had schools or primary health centres or roads connecting motorable highways. Real India where one gets married at the age of 14, becomes a father or mother at 17 and becomes an old man/woman at the ripe old age of 24. He is quite happy if he gets three maize chapattis, a pinch of salt, a green chilli, one large onion and a bowl of drinking water. He is ready to work for 12 hours a day for the two meals.

In the meeting I was attending the village elders were treated with tea and samosas and lots of speeches. The only speech they understood was that of a young Punjabi officer who hit their minds directly with a question beautifully presented in the local dialect. Why should anybody have more than two children when Lord Rama and Sitaji had only two offspring, Lava and Kusha? They agreed.

Very reasonable.

The collector of the district was the main speaker. A young and energetic idealist, he spoke at length about everything under the sun and exhorted them to join him in his efforts at bettering their lot. They kept mum. He then asked them: “Are you having any problem? Has anybody any complaint?”

They did not open their mouth. The collector surveyed the assembly and decided to propose a vote of thanks and finish off the program. Then suddenly somebody stirred. A squeaking murmur. He was an old man with a turban and moustache.

“What do you want, my dear fellow?” the collector asked.

The old man said, “Water.”

There was no water in his village. The nearest source was a stream one kilometre away. It had dried up three years back. Now the nearest one is four kilometres away. The water is not good, but what else to do? Now even that stream is drying up. The young officer was silent for a few moments. He knew he was helpless. He promised to look into the matter. Suddenly the entire assembly woke up. Everybody started chanting their own woes. Very few villages had a well of their own. The young officer’s eyes were wet with tears, perhaps the onlypure water in the vicinity!

The water problems still continue. My journalist friends told me. But the matter is not newsworthy at national level. The area is Maoist- infested and stories about occasional clashes with the para-military forces are more attractive to the urban middle class, obsessed with the bottled water culture.

Kerala, blessed with four times the national average rainfall, 44 rivers, hundreds of canals, lagoons and lakes, thousands of tanks and lakhs of wells, all perennial, is now starving for water. The water  sources are drying up and the little we are getting is contaminated, experts say. Very alarming. But look at what really happens.

Unless there are enough consumer patients, what will happen to our scores of clinics, nursing homes, special and super specialty hospitals coming up in every nook and corner of Kerala? And the medical colleges turning out thousands of doctors? And the medical equipment business? And the pharmaceutical giants? All of them will be down if there is no regular supply of patients. Thank God (we have variety of gods – in the instant case, it is the plan priority fixers), Kerala with totally contaminated water and absence of any type of positive sewage system will ensure that all in the medical business will have a prosperous future here.

Gandhiji’s famous dictum still vibrates in my mind.

He wrote: “In India, 90% of our illness starts with fever or dysentery and both are caused by the impurities in the drinking water and contaminated surroundings. We don’t require super special costly hospitals for our general health care. The nature has given us in abundance simple medical equipment. It is a nine-inch long twig. Just make a six-inch deep hole on the earth before you sit for the morning toiletry and fill it with the displaced earth after you finish. You will stop contamination of the flowing water and create a richer soil.”

The concrete jungle of emerging Kerala has no soil or twigs. But we can find alternatives. A super specialty drinking water project and multi-tier sewage disposal system. It would be our nine-inch twig. I am not against hospitals and super specialties. I am of course apprehensive of the potentially dangerous social phenomena of religion, healthcare and education coming together under the control of nongovernment, non-accountable bodies and tuning our minds.