The people of Karjat have proved that even if their wells and taps run dry, their compassion never will. The locals there are struggling with acute water shortage — like the rest of Mumbai and the state — but have not forgotten about the far greater crisis at Latur. Weeks before the government sent its first water train there, Karjat residents had already hit upon the same idea and have already sent thousands of litres of drinking water to give some relief to the bone-dry Latur.
Through the day, locals drop by at Karjat station and leave anonymous contributions with whatever they can manage, whether it is one jar of corporation water or boxes of mineral water. And each night, as Latur Express rolls into Karjat station, the volunteers load all the water on the train.
It all began with one man, T Mohanraj, who runs a resort at Karjat (E), about a kilometre from the railway station. All of last year, he struggled for water – the borewells on his property yielded very little water and the municipal water supply was limited to half an hour. His luck changed with the digging of new borewells and he now has water around the clock. But he will never forget that year of desperation.
helping hands: T Mohanraj and his friends Ramakant Jadhav and Rajesh Kalwar have written to the railway authorities requesting for space on board the Latur Express to send more aid
“For the last three months, I have heard about the drought in Latur and wondered how they can survive without water. Now that I have enough water from my borewells, I decided to fill some in empty containers and send it there,” he said.
Since Holi (March 23-24), Mohanraj has been sending at least 100 litres of drinking water onboard the Latur Express every day. When his friends heard about his intiative, they decided to join him, sometimes sending boxes of mineral water and at other times sending water cans filled with borewell or municipal water. Slowly, word spread and other Karjat residents came forward to help as well.
When mid-day joined them on Monday night, Karjat station was overflowing with compassion and water that had lovingly been collected for drought relief.
mid-day found close to 80 people stacking 300 boxes with a total of 3,600 litres of mineral water
There were close to 80 people stacking 300 boxes with a total of 3,600 litres of mineral water. As soon as the train rolled in at 10.45 pm, this band of men and women formed a human chain and began loading the water into the luggage compartment, the sleeper coach or wherever they found the space. And within five minutes, the train began to pull out from the platform and began to make its way to Latur.
Those who were there told this reporter that they wanted to send more water but their hands were tied. But it was not a lack of water that was restricting them – a lot more water had been collected but could not be loaded. The real problem was transportation.
As sending water by tanker or train is expensive, Mohanraj and his friends, Rajesh S Kalwar and Ramakant B Jadhav, wrote to the railway minister and other officials to request that they be provided carriage space free of charge, so they can send more aid, including water and vegetable waste to feed the dying cattle in Latur. They also requested that the empty water cans and gunny bags be sent back on the return journey to be refilled.
They recently purchased 400 jars for this purpose. Each of the 20-litre bottles costs R85, but the shopkeeper sold it to them at the discounted price of R60 when he heard about their cause. Mohanraj now hopes they will find similar assistance from the railway authorities. “If we get permission from the railway board to send these bottles every day free of cost, it will really helpful. We approached the divisional railway manager of Central Railway, but he told us to get a letter from the railway board or an MP,” said Mohanraj, adding, “Since March 23, I have been sending water through Latur Express but I don’t know how the water is being distributed at the other end. I hope it is reaching the needy.”
When mid-day contacted the Latur disctrict collector, Pandurang Pole, he confirmed, “T Mohanraj and his friends have been sending water since March 23 but I need to check where the water has been distributed. We have appointed a local coordinator to manage the distribution of water.”
Mohanraj told this paper, “Now that the vacations have started, many students are also approaching us with offers to help. We will ask two volunteers to board the train to Latur to deliver the bottles and we will bear their travel costs.”
Letter to Railways
‘As the drought situation in Latur is worsening day by day, we want to help the people there in the best possible way. The citizens of Karjat are willing to send potable water for human beings and vegetable waste for cattle on a daily basis if carriage facility is provided free of charge on Latur Express which passes here at 10.38 pm,’ reads the letter the group sent to the railway authorities.