Sunday, April 11, 2010

Their water woes have only begun...

Pravin, Arun, and I went for a preliminary field-visit/survey to Harkesh Nagar and Sanjay Colony in Okhla Phase II today morning. We got off at Okhla-tank bus stop (one stop before Apollo hospital) and crossed few railway lines on foot to meet our resource person- Rita- on the other side.
We were told that so many people cross the same railway lines to fetch water early morning from a water treatment plant before duty-time. The sad part is that since trains that stop here don't blow any siren before moving, few people regularly die or get maimed because they're unable to dash out in time…I know it sounds too extreme but it is a fact (see picture below).
Rita tells us about morning-rush across railway lines to get daily water supply
Next we moved towards her home in Harkesh Nagar, which is located in a building that houses 60-70 families, each paying about Rs 1200 as monthly rent. Every family gets a one-room accommodation where electricity metres over-run and ration, which is relatively expensive, has to be purchased from shops suggested by the landlord.
We spoke with one of Rita's neighbours, Sonu, who has migrated from Nepal with his family. He shared with us his work-related experiences (he makes necklaces for a living) and about water issues faced by all residents in general. In many industrial units, he tells us, workers are overworked, get under-paid and don't even get minimum water to drink. Employers provide water in cans on roof-tops so that workers cannot drink water that gets hot during the day and won't be able to pour it over themselves either to beat the heat. Many workers die every year because of extreme working conditions.
Also the problem of expensive medical facilities came up during our discussion with him. He narrated to us an experience where he had to take his daughter to a local private doctor for emergency treatment, who instantly charged him Rs 1700! Rita told us that they sometimes have to foot medical bills by giving up household items.
We then went up to the terrace to get a view of the surrounding industrial area, where most people of Harkesh Nagar are employed. We saw mobile towers, more concrete buildings to accommodate increasing numbers of working class people, including those who work for the upcoming Metro site close-by.
Reliance mobile tower. It is one of many that dot the skyline here.
Rita told us that the Lotus Temple was once visible from her terrace but now, it's just these buildings. We could also see a small forested hill at some distance, where people take about 450-500ml of water to finish morning business. There's no water to wash hands after that or even to take bath daily, forget about drinking it. This seems to be directly related with frequent health problems faced by residents of the colony.
Only hilly/green area left in this concrete jungle
Water in Harkesh Nagar comes from bore wells every few days and each time, people viciously argue for more of it. The poorer one is, the lesser water s/he gets. Overall stress with regard to living in such dire circumstances has left few people psychologically disturbed too with visible manifestations.
Barring the fight over quantity of water, the quality is very poor as well. When people cook daal sometimes, the grains stay uncooked/hard because of the kind of water used. Even tea cannot be made because hard water sours the milk. "Even taking a head-bath using ordinary soap is not possible because hair sticks to each other instead of getting cleaned," said Rita. Also, within 2-3 days, there are black worms that grow in stored water proving that it’s just not fit for human consumption, even if it’s a ‘safe’ colour between white and pale yellow.
Due to extreme swelling in her body, particularly the feet, she told us that she underwent many expensive tests but nothing substantial came out of them. But only after a sample of her drinking water got tested, an AIIMs doctor informed her that dangerously high levels of iron content in it (2100µg instead of the permissible limit of 150µg) is the real reason for her health troubles. He strictly advised her not to drink it without boiling it daily. "It’s not a practical solution," according to Rita because it takes too much time and cooking gas. As of now, she filters water through a cloth and adds a microbe-killing tablet called ‘Halogen’ that her brother gets for her from Bihar. So despite knowing the available water is bad for health, nothing much can be done about it.
Then we moved towards Sanjay Colony to witness chaos around Delhi Jal Board trucks when they come to deliver water every few days. It’s sad but in their own admission, no one recognises anyone when there is so much haste to acquire as much water. We spoke with Pramila, Bablu, Jagdish and Nafiz in this regard. "It is still easier for people who live close to the main road but for those who live inside narrow lanes, by the time they come out, there’s no water left for them," said Pramila.
There’s a thriving business of water containers in the colony. Many others sit down to separate waste cloth pieces of same colour for wages or are ‘kabadiwallahs’ (see pictures). The rest work as casual labourers in industrial units close-by.
It's profitable to sell water cans here
Sorting out cloth pieces of same colour for daily wages. The dust/cloth particles inhaled during this process causes health problems
Scrambling for water has just begun
Hopefully today's experience will trigger more visits by those concerned if nothing else. I have no idea about the future utility of this 'work' we're generating. All I know is that people who live here face grave injustices and we're indifferent to them at certain levels (as middle class people) because it's not happening to us.
For more photos, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Great Article Shweta! It really brings out the plight of the people.