Barmer (Rajasthan), Aug 30 (IANS) Dreams of tasting sweet water have finally come true for residents of the parched Thar region, along the India-Pakistan border, in Rajasthan.
The area's residents cheered United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi Thursday as she inaugurated a Rs.688.65 crore phase I of the lift drinking water project, which aims to provide potable water from the Himalayas to people of Barmer city and 74 villages along the 196-km pipeline.
Around 70,000 people from the city and neighbouring villages with the men sporting colourful turbans, waited in sultry weather at the jam-packed Adarsh Stadium grounds to hear Gandhi. Local MP Harish Chaudhary termed the project "a water festival".
"Water shortage in the region affects my sisters the most," said Gandhi while addressing the crowd.
"I hope this project will help reduce their suffering," she said, stressing that water was life and advising them to use it judiciously.
Women, majority of whom have been suffering knee joint pains after consuming ground water containing fluoride for decades, were indeed the most happy of the lot.
"Women have to travel seven to eight kilometres several times every day to fetch water from the wells to keep the household going. We can do without food but life is not possible without water," sixty-year-old Rekho Ala of Udikala Mahavar village told IANS.
"My sons work as labourers in the fields. Most women in rural areas have to fetch water for the household, now my problem would be solved," said Ala, who admitted that she does not get any help from her three sons in this daily rigour.
Revanti Devi, 20, an anganwadi worker in the same village, was also very happy.
"It is difficult to drink the ground water but we had no option. Now I will not have to go far to fetch sweet water. In the time saved from travelling to the wells, I will help my mother-in-law in household work," she told IANS.
Urmila Jain, a local councillor, said city residents spend between Rs.350-400 for a tanker of water which serves an average household for around 10 days.
"Women will benefit the most from this project," she said.
Phase I of the Barmer Lift Drinking Water Project will be able to cover a population of around 10 lakh in the city and the villages which fall along the pipeline which draws water from the Indira Gandhi Main Canal.
The project started in 2002 and Gandhi said the Congress government speeded it up.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said more areas of the Barmer and Jaisalmer region will be covered under the project in the coming years.
Phase I will not only help the people of the two districts but also the India Air Force base located at Uttarlai near here and the Border Security Force troopers, deployed along the border with Pakistan, he said.
Gehlot added that a Rs.979 crore proposal for phase II of the project has been sent to the central government for sanctioning from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, he said.
Water distribution system at household level in Barmer city is in place and has been tested in the past two weeks. A 38,450 lakh litre capacity pond has been constructed which will meet demand for 21 days, said officials.
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)