India's dry and scorching summer, one of the fiercest in decades, has once again dried up Bundelkhand, one of the nation's most water-scarce regions. As a result, police in the region's Banda district, which is part of Uttar Pradesh, have mounted a round-the-clock-vigil on the Ken River, a lifeline for the district.
Such vigilance has been made necessary by illegal sand mining that is rampant across the almost dry river. A few days ago miners diverted the last remaining streams of water in the river to take out more sand. Water supply to the Banda town, already infrequent, was totally cut off.
"When the mining reaches its limits, the main stream in the river is obstructed. This leads to a situation where our intake wells, meant for further supply, cannot receive supply," RK Kanaujia, in-charge of the district's water supply department, said.
Police say they are using binoculars and patrolling the dry river bed on foot to look out for any illegal mining activity.
"We are maintaining a round-the-clock vigil so that no one can divert the supply again for whatever reason. We are guarding the river 24 hours. When we leave, a new team will come. We will be here till the water problem is around," Dayashankar Pandey, one of the policemen assigned to guard duty, said.
The rains may be the only answer to water woes in this area but it is not clear when, and with what intensity, the monsoons will arrive.
Data from the India Meterological Department confirms that most of Bundelkhand, and the state of Uttar Pradesh for that matter, has had either no rain or severely deficient rain this month. Current deficiency levels are -75 per cent, according to government figures.
Villagers in the neighboring Hamirpur district, which is also part of Bundelkhand, say their only job these days - from morning till evening - is to fetch water from several kilometres away, or wait for government water tankers.
However, villagers say these water tankers are few and far in between.
"We fetch water from two kilometres away. We balance eight water cans on one bicycle. When officials come for inspection they just check in the homes by the side of the road, they never venture in to check if the entire village is getting water," Murad Ali, a local resident, complained.
आज नई दिल्ली प्रवास के दौरान माननीय केंद्रीय जल शक्ति मंत्री श्री गजेंद्र सिंह शेखावत जी से शिष्टाचार भेंट की। pic.twitter.com/gTL4sQPkRd— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) June 16, 2019
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath recently tweeted a photo of his meeting with the Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the Union Minister in-charge of the newly-created Jal Shakti Ministry.
It is believed Prime Minister Narendra Modi has instructed the central and state governments to work in tandem and solve Uttar Pradesh's water crisis before 2022 - when the state goes to polls.
A Rs 9000 crore central grant to the state, including the water-starved Bundelkhand region, is on the cards. The money is meant for irrigation projects to drinking water supply in rural and urban areas.