Water So Close So Far

The water supply to Tanegapoul village in Manipur has been cut off for over fifteen years. Villagers must travel two kilometers to collect water in containers from a stream, which is the closest source of water. They must then carry the heavy vessels uphill to their homes. Women and children are the primary bearers of this burden. This issue has significant impacts on the villagers' health, education and livelihood. The stream the villagers use is contaminated with high levels of bacteria. This bacteria causes dysentery and other dangerous water-related illnesses. This in turn weakens overall public health in the village. Children, forced to spend significant time transporting water with their families, often miss school. The large amount of time spent collecting water takes away from other work, thus detracting from overall productivity in the village. While the Central government has allocated money for fixing chronic infrastructural issues, such as this one in Tanegapoul village, Manipur’s state government has refused to hand over funding for the projects to locally-elected government bodies. Local governing bodies in the Northeast are organized as Autonomous District Councils. This is different from the rest of the country, where local governing bodies are organized around the Panchayat system. The Northeast’s system is distinct due to the region’s unique historical and political context. Many believe Manipur’s state government is refusing to release funding for infrastructural repair due to the political rift between the state and the local Autonomous District Councils. The state government is managed by a ruling class, while local Autonomous District Councils are comprised of hill and tribal people. Manipur’s recent economic blockade has roots in this divide. The blockade began as a protest against the Manipur state government’s refusal to empower the local Autonomous District Councils to enact the Central government’s schemes. The blockade began one month before the Autonomous District Council elections. Despite the economic blockade being withdrawn, this continues to be a large source of tension across Manipur. Many accuse the state government of pocketing the Central government’s funding. If local Autonomous District Councils are not empowered to respond to local needs, than villages such as Tanegapoul will continue to suffer the negative impacts of the State government’s actions.

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