Story of water woes : Life gets terrible day by day

Dr Biswendu Bhattacharjee

Puspabati Mog, a 43 –yrs old tribal housewife of Chalita Bankul village under Rupaicherri block of South Tripura has been fetching water from a stream at least twice in a day walking down three kilometre distance in each time, as availability of potable surface water in the entire stretch of Devtamura hill range. Its not the case of usual non-availability of water infrastructure in Indian village but it was due to geo-hydrological formation. According to government record, a part of Udaipur, Amarpur, Sabroom and Belonia fall under water scared map of Tripura despite having sufficient rainfall. The Central Ground Water Board report indicated the main source of ground water recharge in South Tripura is precipitation. Other sources of ground water recharge in the area are return flow from irrigation and seepage from ponds / tanks. Recharge from rainfall in the area accounts for 90% of the total annual recharge. The net ground water available in the district was 587.5 million cubic metres. The report claimed Bagafa block (Near Udaipur) is having the highest available ground water while Karbook block (Amarpur) is having the lowest. Puspabati is one among the female folk of the village who is experiencing the water scarcity for last 10 years. At the beginning of her life they experienced the atrocities of armed militants who had often stormed the villages and forced them to cook food for them. But there was not much problem of potable water and vegetables. They had never been to market for buying edible items including fish. Root, shoot, bark, fruit, leaf, flowers, birds, mammals and insects wild in the villages had not only provided them food security also supplement their medical needs without going to hospitals. The demand of cash was not much except monthly travel to bigger markets and buying cloths and a few utensils but today everything has gone and cash becomes the main driving force to maintain minimum livelihood. Plenty of water falls down from the hills and the villagers used to collect water from nearest to their house. But today only one falls remain for the villagers to fetch water – concreted roads build to reach the water point but distance is almost double, which most of the villagers avoid.

The human activity in deep forest was very limited during till 2008 and whatever little movement occurred was for Jhum (slash and burn method of shifting cultivation). However, in counter insurgency operation by the then government had adopted the plan to set up security camps in hilly interiors and increase the movement of administration in each and every corner to develop social infrastructure and expand road network. The militant abducted the civilians and had been kept confined into the deep forest of Tripura and released after payment of ransom. The government had targeted to wipe out those bases across the hill up to eastern border of Tripura with Bangladesh. According to state government report, between 2003 and 2008 more than 1300 different types of security camps were set up in hilly areas and more than 1700 kilometres road connectivity was established for movement. Traditionally, tribals of Tripura are dependent on forest like other parts of the country. But due to insurgency the movement of the tribals inside forest even for their livelihood was restricted. The development activities in the deep interiors have given opportunity to the people to occupy the hill tops. The Forest Survey of India (FSI) report has also indicated the loss of forest cover in Tripura. In 2013 report of FSI stated that out of the total area of 10,486 sqkm, coverage of forest was recorded 4750 sqkm includes only 109 sqkm dense forest.

The massive deforestation in hills and loss of massive vegetation cover has caused soil erosion and several flora of Tripura are extinct now. The alarming rate of forest loss in Tripura hills affected the agricultural productivity in hilly parts of the state and increases the use chemical fertilizer in manifold. To fetch with the development, Tripura government allowed more than 300 brick kilns in shallow hills and plains of Tripura to supply bricks for construction. As a result, the most fertile top soil has been used for brick manufacturing that also affected the structure of land form. Northeast Space Application Centre (NESAC) identified as many as 25 villages under six revenue blocks of South Tripura as water scared because of it’s land form. Physio-graphically, the area divided into two parts, Anticlinal Hill Ranges and Synclinal flat-bottomed valleys. The trend of the hill ranges is almost north to south. The height of the hill ranges increases from west to east. The broad synclinal valleys are Udaipur and Amarpur. The valleys are gently undulating with intermittent flood plains of rivers and streams. The undulations formed by 10 to 30 metre high mounds with gullies in between them. The soil of the area is acidic in nature. The pH of soil ranges from 5.50 to 5.68 while nitrogen and phosphate content is low, available potash is medium to high, calcium, magnesium and sulfur are deficient in these soils. In the area lateritic soil is found in hilly area, younger soils or river valley soils are found along all major river courses, clayey soils are found in paddy fields.

In South Tripura soil are mostly belong to Dupitilla and Bokabil formation where porosity and permeability is limited. As a result, in spite of good rainfall, the water is drained out to Bangladesh with top soil. The IMD data indicated that the average rainfall of 2200 mm in Tripura is remained almost same for last three decades across the state. The average annual rainy days were varied between 88 and 98 days in past six years while in 2017 the annual rainfall of Tripura has recorded at 3350 mm, highest after 2001. But the availability of water in the villages has no improvement. The Chalita Bankul village is one of the 25 water scared locations in South Tripura appear as live example of desertification. In major part of the area ground water occurs under unconfined condition in shallow depth. Ground water occurs under confined condition within shallow depths in small isolated zones, in central and eastern part of Matabari block, in central part of Kakraban block, in northern part (Rajapur – Kanchannagar area) of Bagafa block, in Srirampur area of Rajnagar block, in the southern part (Jalefa – Harina area) of Satchand block. In deeper aquifers ground water occurs under semi-confined to confined conditions. Ground water occurs under artesian condition in Tulamura, Dhuptali, Rajnagar, Muhuripur, Charakbai, East Pipariakhola, Fulkumari and Satchand area. The government has been making continuous attempt to excavate ground water source by RCC well, deep tube wells and shallow tube wells but no result. As a result, incidences of waterborne diseases are very high that increases the cost of regular livelihood that other parts. The excavation of pond in down hills under MGNREGS, which was popular in hilly parts of Northeast, has also not achieved mentionable success in the particular areas of Tripura.