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Exclusive! Maharashtra: Water-starved village on edge after shark attack

Updated on: 19 February,2024 06:45 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Diwakar Sharma |

Rumours of another shark sighting and Forest Dept diktat to stay off the Vaitarna is a blow for Manor-Dongar, which depends on the river for all its water needs like washing and bathing

Exclusive! Maharashtra: Water-starved village on edge after shark attack

Women of the village carrying jerry cans for wate. Pics/Hanif Patel

Key Highlights

  1. Last week’s shark attack on fisherman has aggravated water crisis in Manor-Dongar village
  2. Forest department has made efforts to discourage locals from venturing into the river
  3. The villagers are now wondering, ‘Where do we go for water now?’

Last week’s shark attack on 34-year-old fisherman Hitesh Govari in Palghar district has aggravated the water crisis in Manor-Dongar village, where residents solely depended on the nearby Vaitarna river. However, following the shark attack, the villagers, facing acute water shortages, are now scared to go to the river, fearing sharks.

The forest department and gram panchayat have collectively made efforts to discourage locals from venturing into the river, fuelled by rumours of ‘another shark’ sighted in the nearby waters.

The villagers are now wondering, ‘Where do we go for water now?’ 

A resident showing the pipelines without a tapA resident showing the pipelines without a tap

They mentioned that they used to go to the river every day to bathe, wash clothes, and utensils, due to inadequate water supply with no fixed timing. The tap often runs dry for over 48 hours as water is supplied every alternate day. The situation worsens during the scorching heat of May and June when they face over a month-long drought due to no water supply. Their unanimous complaints are disregarded by the gram panchayat. “Kiske paas jaenge hamlog…koi sunta he nahi hai hamara,” said a resident, Deepika Dilip Jadhav.

“The Sarpanch has a ready list of reasons like the motor is burnt out, water will come in the evening, there is a water shortage due to the summer season, etc. Every time we are sent back home with a promise that it will be supplied in the evening…but the promises are never fulfilled. In such cases, we have no other option than to go to the river, but now the authorities have told us not to go there. Where to go now?” wondered Jadhav.

Another local resident, Shabana Mehboob Ali Khan, said that water tankers are brought only after multiple requests to the gram panchayat. “But the tanker cannot be brought to the doorstep as the lanes are narrow on the hill. So, we have to walk to the tanker and stand in a queue. But one tanker is not sufficient, as everyone runs with jerry cans to fill it,” said Khan.

Notice issued by the authoritiesNotice issued by the authorities

The villagers claimed that highly non-potable water is supplied during the monsoon. “There is no fixed time to supply water; we have to wait at least for two days to refill our reservoir. Also, the quality of water is another issue... we have to add alum (fitkiri) to purify it. The situation becomes horrible in the summer season as no water is supplied when temperatures soar,” said Khan, while making keychains for her livelihood.

“Come and check the quality of water when it is supplied during the rainy season... its colour is akin to milk tea,” she added.

“People of this village are suffering from skin disease because they regularly bathe in the salty water of the Vaitarna river,” she added.

Spot in the river where the shark attack happenedSpot in the river where the shark attack happened

Defunct water storage tanks

In the village, defunct water storage tanks, perched atop rusty iron stands, seamlessly blend with the deplorable surroundings. These tanks, never connected to the water pipeline, have been lying unused since their inauguration, according to villagers.

Residents grapple with crumbling infrastructure, navigating narrow, poorly maintained lanes and rocky paths to reach their homes. Dry tufts line unclean roads, while abandoned water tanks, partly concealed under tree leaves, exacerbate the plight.

Bilkis Memon, a local resident, said, “Water tank atop an iron stand, but see no pipe is connected. It has been abandoned for the past two years. Despite pipes laid and taps installed in homes, water supply remains scanty, lasting only 30 minutes every alternate day, leaving villagers in a quandary.”

Poorly maintained lanes and rocky paths in the villagePoorly maintained lanes and rocky paths in the village

Manor-Dongar village suffers from neglect by the gram panchayat, evident in the absence of proper roads and abandoned water storage tanks. The deteriorating network of water pipes, covered in peeling cement, poses further challenges, leaving residents vulnerable to damage and leaks.

No water connection at victim’s house

There is no tap on the pipeline, which ends nearly 30 metres before reaching the boundary wall of Hitesh’s recently constructed pucca house.

His aunt, Deepika Dilip Jadhav, said, “See, there is no tap here in the pipe. If water is released, Hitesh would connect a plastic pipe to get supply at his home.”
A 50-year-old Akila Abbas Shaikh said, “Today water was supplied after five days at my home. Sometimes we have to wait for 15 days for water. We don’t have a borewell; how will we survive?”

“We are forced to go to the river to wash clothes or utensils and take a bath. The river is around 2 km from my house. It is very difficult for me to go down the hill to the river and climb atop with wet clothes and utensils. Many times I lost balance and slipped on the inclination…it is an everyday struggle,” she told mid-day.
The mid-day team visited the village on Friday to gauge what prompted Hitesh, alias Vickya, to go to the river in the evening when a few villagers already spotted the sea predator.

His neighbours and relatives said that Hitesh went to take a bath in the river only because there was no water at his home.

His mother, Surekha Suresh Govari said, “Had there been a sufficient supply of water, my son would not have gone to the river…he paid the heaviest price for taking a bath in the river…he is a father of two children and he has lost his leg.”

Govari’s village is located on a hill along the Vaitarna river, which is connected to an open sea at Arnala in Virar. “Despite living in close proximity to a huge water body, we are still facing huge water scarcity as there is inadequate supply of water,” said Shayna Birwatkar, a local resident of Manor-Dongar village.

JJM falls flat

The painful ordeal of water-stressed villagers punctures the lofty claims of the Central government’s ambitious project ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’ (to install taps at every household by 2024), as the women and adolescent girls of this village are often carrying jerry cans loads of water on their heads negotiating thorny and rocky paths of the hill to fetch water.

But, the proliferation of local strongmen-supported water businesses near the village exacerbates the residents’ plight, who endure drought-like conditions that worsen during summer days.

“We keep on watching our taps because there is no fixed time,” said Salma Khan, another resident.

Officials Speak

When contacted about the water crisis in the village, the collector of Palghar district, Govind Bodke, said, “This comes under Zila Parishad’s responsibility. Please 
contact the chief executive officer, ZP.”

The authorities seem unaware of the crisis. The Chief Executive Officer of Zilla Parishad, BH Palawe, said, “I have spoken to the block development officer and the executive engineer concerned of the area. They said there is no issue of water shortage at all in the village. I am 99.9 per cent sure that there is no water crisis in Manor-Dongar village in the Palghar district.”

“Also, I was there in the village last week during the visit of the chief minister. At that time, no one, including the village sarpanch, informed me about any such issue,” Palawe told mid-day.

However, the Sarpanch, Chetan Patil, stated that the CEO of ZP has been apprised of the ongoing water crisis in Manor-Dongar village.

“There are nearly 25,000 people in the village, where residents have been facing water shortage for many years. There is a water crisis in the area; water cannot be released every day as we have to fulfil the demands of other pockets in the village. This is why people get water every alternate day,” said Patil.

A forest officer from Manor said, “We have installed posters to spread a message among villagers not to go into Vaitarna river. They usually were seen washing clothes, utensils, and bathing in the river because of the water crisis, but we are concerned about their safety.”

“The water level in the river has decreased, but we are keeping a close watch on the movements of any sea predator in the Vaitarna river. The ban has not been made for a specific span of time, but they should not venture into the river at least for a month,” the forest officer said.

An honorary wildlife warden of Palghar district, Hardik Soni, said, “Initially, it was being discussed that three sharks came into the river. But it seems it was a rumour as I spoke to many local fishermen in the area and came to know that only one bull shark entered into the shallow water in Vaitarna river apparently to give birth in the freshwater, or it might be food-starved. Sharks are very aggressive fish.”

“The movements of sharks can be ascertained if satellite tagging is installed on the sea turtles near Arnala, where the Vaitarna river meets the sea. But for that, the forest department needs to have permission from its head office in Nagpur,” said Soni, who was present at the spot when the dead shark was being loaded into a van from Manor to Dahanu.

2 Years
Time since pipeline was abandoned

Feb 13
Day of the attack

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