No water supply, electricity mere eyewash, say Sarinder residents
SIRINDER, BANDIPORA: “We returned to the world anew after this winter’s merciless snowfall confined us to our homes till April beginning. But returning to the normal way of life made us realise we are in no way better off,” says 30-year-old Zakir Hussain Meelu from Sarinder village of North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
The naturally serene, quiet village is tucked between the lofty Harmukh range of snow-capped mountains, around 15 kilometres from the district headquarters. A stream cuts through the village, dividing it evenly in two; its mixed brick-and-mud homes are scattered over the surrounding hilly terrain. The main livelihood here is farming, mostly of corn and cereals. Villagers also cultivate wild produce that grows naturally in the forests, chief among which are mushrooms.
Sarinder houses over 150 families, with a population of over four hundred souls. While it has been connected to the rest of Kashmir by road for a few years now, the village suffers from a non-availability of all other amenities – the basics of water, electricity and health care made an appearance here once but have presently all fallen into disrepair.
“In 2016, the administration was suddenly merciful to us when a water supply scheme was built for regular supply to villages here. After a year, a road was built too, and in a short while, the next year actually, we saw electricity for the first time. But it didn’t last long and things started crumbling and the administration again forgot us, as it always had before,” said Meelu Khan, a youth from the village.
As the villagers describe it, the newly installed water supply scheme functioned for only a year and has been out-of-order for over two years, “with no one from the administration even bothering” to visit the village. “The pipes were laid from Thandapani to Sarinder, but the scheme worked for only a year, as the required chamber which was supposed to be built near the water supply’s source wasn’t built despite promises. Ultimately, the scheme was left dysfunctional,” said Begum Jan, the women head of Sarinder village.
In protest, the villagers dismantled the water pipes and kept them near the water tank. “Despite that, no one from the administration has paid a visit here for over two years. The officials promised us that they would visit once the snow subsided, but no one has come here, even when there is no snow,” Begum Jan said.
To add to the shameful conditions, the School Education Department has constructed toilets for the village’s only primary school, located in its Tass Mohalla locality. The facilities were provided with tiles and urinals were attached, but the pipes carry no water. Instead, the over-60 students of the school fetch water for it in buckets from a nearby natural spring. This spring is used by most of Sarinder’s residents for their daily requirements, although not all in the area are so lucky. Most uphill localities, like Kalanwali, Poswal Pati and Miyan Mohalla, have to come downhill for water daily.
“The school’s washrooms and toilets have no water. After watching the students suffer, we tried to draw water from the spring by installing pipes to it, but it didn’t work,” said Zakir, the school’s caretaker, who spoke also of wishing for the water supply to be restored for the ease of school-going children.
Giving his version, the Public Health Engineering Executive Engineer, Khaliq Qureshi, who has recently joined the department, told Kashmir Reader that the scheme has been closed. When he visited the area, it was under snow, he said. As per his report, “The pipes had been burst, and now the elections have kept us busy. No departmental works could be done due to the Model Code of Conduct. Now we are waiting and in process for announcing a short tender to replace those pipes so that the water supply scheme be made functional.” Qureshi added that he “will look into the problems faced by the school children and also visit the area to gather more details”.
As for electricity, Sarinder’s residents saw light bulbs illuminate their houses for the first time in May last year, as the hamlet became one of the electrified villages under centrally sponsored schemes. While they “broke into ‘jubilation” at the time, only half the homes finally benefited, and no electricity reached the rest of the village despite electric polls being erected.
“The electric poles are there for years now, but no transmission lines have been laid for reasons unknown to us,” said Farooq Ahmad Khan of Kalanwali locality. Besides that, he said, Poswal Pati and Miyan Mohalla were also not electrified.
“The un-electrified homes amount to half the population of this village, as out of 150 households, only 70 are electrified,” Khan further said. Even the electrified houses, villagers say, have had no electricity for the last six months. Now that the weather has improved, “we receive some minutes of electricity in two minute intervals. It is better not to expect much, but if they will supply the electricity regularly if metered, I think we will opt for that,” local resident Khan Zakir said.
When contacted, Assistant Executive Engineer, Power Development Department, Riyaz Sheikh said, “Not half but less than one-fourth of the population there is without electricity as the wires haven’t been laid yet. The village is electrified in DDUGJY centrally sponsored scheme, but we had some limitations of the material.” Promising that the village will be fully electrified within days, he said, “Only a few works are pending, and conductors/wires are to be laid. Some four to five transmission towers are also to be removed to other locations, due to faulty engineering.”
Besides these issues, the villagers rely on only one doctor in an equipment-less dispensary. The villagers have to travel kilometres for basic treatment. “The only treatment we receive here is painkiller tablets and bandages for minor cuts,” said Aasif Meelu, another young villager.