The Union government celebrated bringing piped drinking water connections to 100% of all schools and Anganwadis in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, a claim that's laughably easy to disprove.
Srinagar: At the Government Girls Middle School in Garend village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district, if students or teachers need a drink of water, they often need to trek back to their homes. The only other option is a stream nearby, contaminated with human and animal waste.
The institution was established almost 50 years ago, in 1973. Yet it has no running water. The state of the school’s toilets is equally bad - they are either mostly defunct for want of water or have a makeshift water supply arrangement.
Such is the condition of many Anganwadi centres and government schools in rural J&K.
Yet, the government at the Centre asserted in August that all 22,422 schools and 23,926 Anganwadi centres in the state have clean tap water available. It also claimed that the state has become the second Union Territory to achieve this feat.
But even a cursory investigation gives the lie to this claim. Many educational institutions are also consuming unfiltered, unsafe water.
Under Section 19 of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, it is mandatory for schools to provide safe drinking water facilities and toilets to students in accordance with the norms prescribed in the Schedule to the RTE Act, 2009.
Data vs reality
Abdul Gani Wani, Headmaster of the Government Girls Middle School Garend, which is clustered with Primary School of Chopan Mohala, said since the school doesn’t have boundary walls, it is not possible to keep track of where students go to quench their thirst. “Otherwise, we have assigned to the peon the duty to bring water in a bucket in the morning, which we use sparingly,” he explained.
In the school toilets, where again water is scarce, an arrangement has been made in which a pipe has been connected to the drain and attached to the toilet.
Around 20 km away from this village, the Government Boys Middle School of Mal Machama of Budgam district, established in 1977, faces a similar problem.
Teacher Mohamad Amin told 101Reporters, “We have to go down a slope to get water from a spring as the nearby streams are filthy.” The school toilets, he explained, remain defunct in the absence of water. Teachers are barely managing to hold classes in such a situation.
In August this year, a pipeline for tap water facility was connected to the school but remains useless, as it doesn’t supply any water.
Raja Yaqoob, a resident of Mal Machama village, said, “Our village is suffering from shortage of water, so are the schools. In August, government officials installed a tap at the school – more than 40 years after its establishment - but not a drop comes out of it.”
When informed of the government’s assertion of 100 per cent water supply in J&K educational institutes, he said that officials were making such claims on the basis of data available with them. But whether water was actually running through the pipelines that had been put up, and whether such water was sufficient and drinkable, was something they were not aware of.
Official documents of the Directorate of School Education accessed by Kashmir Monitor last year revealed that in Kashmir, more than 1,800 government schools were lacking safe drinking water facilities, forcing students to drink from open and unhygienic sources.
The water supply in Otligam village (left); the government school in Garend (Picture credit - Mukhtar Dar)
Contradictory claims of ‘pure water’
Soon after the government announced in August that all schools and Anganwadis in J&K had been provided water supply, Union home minister Amit Shah had hailed PM Narendra Modi for “timely supply of pure drinking water” and credited Modi and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the Union Cabinet Minister in Ministry of Jal Shakti, on Twitter for making J&K “synonymous with peace and prosperity"
His words were in stark contrast to the NITI Aayog Sustainable Development Goal index 2021, which found that only 53 per cent population in rural areas of J&K was getting safe and adequate drinking water through piped water supply.
Significantly, government schools are getting water supply from the same pipelines that are available for villagers. Student Arif Sultan, who has actively participated in village initiatives, revealed that “drinking water” supplied as part of water schemes in Kashmir villages was often untreated, or sourced directly from streams that were contaminated with solid and liquid waste of animals and humans.
Another study conducted by the Journal of International Medical Research & Health Sciences in 2021 to assess the bacteriological quality of drinking water in Kashmir gave a shocking finding.
Among 625 samples collected from various sources across eight state districts, it was found that 410 (65.6 per cent) samples were unfit for human consumption. Of the 410 samples, 231 were of tap water.
In Budgam, the Zabgulah-Chanapora water scheme caters to around 20 villages, including schools. Under the initiative, contaminated stream water is reportedly being supplied to the villages through outdated and non-functional reservoirs constructed decades ago.
According to Sultan, “waterborne diseases like typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhoea, skin diseases and so forth are widespread among students”. He explained that while villagers are aware of the supply of contaminated water and prefer to fetch clean water from springs, the students have no option but to consume the dirty water.
Similarly, Utligam village in Budgam is getting water supply from a stream near Sangrampora village. The stream flows through various areas before it reaches Sangrampora and carries plenty of liquid waste.
A Jal Shakti Ministry employee, on the condition of anonymity, admitted that water supply pipelines should have been connected to the upper reaches of streams, because in downstream areas water condition worsens due to anthropogenic pressure and mixing of waste.
Officials in the water ministry’s Budgam department told the public at an outreach programme in the town that “we have already proposed a rapid filtration plant under Nabada Hunjigor Pethkont water scheme for all these villages, so that safe drinking water can be made available”.
They assured that the work would be done “as soon as the scheme is approved”.
Director of Education, Kashmir, and Budgam CEO could not be contacted for comments despite repeated calls and texts.
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