UP has a water crisis but why are voters indifferent to it?

As parties promise to clean up the Ganga and Yamuna, why is clean water not an electoral issue?

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“Yes, Ganga and Yamuna have turned into drains. But no candidate is talking about this, nor is any voter asking,” says Abhishek Srivastava, as he buys a wallet in Agra’s Sadar Bazar. “Why not?” “I don’t know. Voters only echo the points raised by candidates during the campaign.”

Over 140 million people are eligible to vote as UP ELECTIONS 2017 — the land of the Ganga and the Yamuna — gets set to elect a new state government. The ongoing campaign is characterised by bitterness, sarcasm and extravagant promises of laptops to each student. Opinion polls show a tight race between the Bharatiya Janata Party that rules India, the state’s ruling Samajwadi Party which is in alliance with the Congress, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, with around 40% of voters still saying they are undecided. Polling will be in five phases in February and March.

Agra will go to the polls in the first phase on February 11. Looking outside the shop where he is choosing his wallet, Srivastava points to a stagnant open drain with its stink and cloud of mosquitoes, and says, “No one raised the issue of such drains even in the municipality polls. Do you think they will do it in the state assembly polls? No way.”

Sadar Bazar is less than a kilometre from the Taj Mahal, and behind that the Yamuna, which is literally a drain downstream of Delhi — around 200 kilometres to the north — till the Chambal joins the river 200 km further downstream of Agra.

Widespread apathy

Everybody agrees that the poison affects drinking water and irrigation. Still, the apathy is mirrored in town after town of western Uttar Pradesh, all in that fertile belt between the Ganga and the Yamuna.

Gokul Ram, who plies a cycle rickshaw in Hathras, says, “It’s the same everywhere. My village is in eastern Uttar Pradesh, near Sonebhadra. There the ash flying from a power station has made the soil infertile. Here you can’t get any clean water to drink unless you buy a bottle, and we don’t have the money for that. The water in the wells is yellow, and it stinks.”

Has he heard anybody talking about it during the campaign? “No.” Why not? “I don’t know.”

There’s a heartening example of philanthropy in the Khurja town centre. Coordinated by the district administration, there is a place for donating and collecting warm clothes. But within 100 metres, on the road leading to the town’s poorer neighbourhood inhabited mostly by Dalits and Muslims, there’s the omnipresent open garbage dump with wallowing pigs.

Butcher Akhlaq Qureshi has his shop right in front of the dump. “I don’t have clean water even to wash the meat,” he says. “One of the candidates was holding a meeting in our neighbourhood. I asked him if he would provide at least one tap for us. He did promise. Let us see.” | READ MORE….

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