Rise in deadly clashes over water in India

A gunman stands guard over a reservoir in Tikamgarh in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Armed men have been securing the Barighat dam for months against water theft by desperate farmers in order to ensure there is water for thousands of Ti
A gunman stands guard over a reservoir in Tikamgarh in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Armed men have been securing the Barighat dam for months against water theft by desperate farmers in order to ensure there is water for thousands of Tikamgarh residents.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

People are turning on one another in desperate bid to protect whatever little water is left after years of drought

BHOPAL (India) • As northern and central India continue to suffer severe drought and oppressive heat, police in Bundelkhand and several other regions are reporting a rise in violent - and often deadly - clashes over water.

After almost 10 years of below- average rainfall and several consecutive years of drought, the region's rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wells are drying up.

Disputes are a common problem in many places in India that face water shortages. But Indian police report that the fighting is getting more frequent and bloody. In many parts of the country, neighbours, friends and family are turning on one another, desperate to protect what little water they have left, police records suggest.

Last month, in the tribal-dominated Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh, 13-year-old Surmada, her brother and her uncle used a neighbour's hand-pump without permission to get water for the family's house guests.

According to police, the owner of the pump and his son attacked the group with arrows. One pierced Surmada's eye, killing her.

And in the village of Kanker, in Shivpuri district, a large-scale argument broke out after two motorcyclists got into an accident, causing one to spill a 15-litre container of water he was carrying. Fifteen people were injured, five of them women.

Mr Lal Singh Arya, Madhya Pradesh's Urban Administration and Development Minister, said the government is using all its resources to try to make sure everyone has water. But he predicted tensions will remain high until monsoon rains - which began recently in some areas - take hold.

Activists say the government's failure to better manage water is partly to blame for the rise in violence. According to the Madhya Pradesh water resource department, out of the state's 139 main reservoirs, 82 are at only 10 per cent capacity and 22 are empty.

Across much of the region, the authorities have banned the use of water for washing cars or trucks, bathing cattle and irrigating crops.

In most cities in Madhya Pradesh, the local government supplies drinking water only on one out of every two to seven days.

The district administration of Sehore in Madhya Pradesh has temporarily taken charge of all water sources, whether government or privately owned, so that it can manage the use of the dwindling resource.

In three towns in Madhya Pradesh, the use of water for anything other than drinking is banned.

Mr Lokesh Kumar, the sub-divisional magistrate of Ichhawar town, said water cannot be used for farming or industrial purposes until July 5, when the monsoon is under way and the authorities hope water sources will be replenished.

For many in rural India, the struggle to survive with very little water is proving too difficult. In areas like Bundelkhand, a growing number of people are leaving their homes and abandoning their work in hopes of finding water - even just a little more - somewhere else.

Mr Asandi Das, who lives in a village in Chhatarpur district, plans to take his family to Agra, where the famous Taj Mahal is located, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

"We'll not be able to survive in our village," he said. "There's just no water. We'll have to go to some other place if we want to live." 

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Rise in deadly clashes over water in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe