Thirsty in a Wi-Fi-wala village -Sarita Brara
-The Hindu Business Line
Digital dreams are cheaper than a pot of drinking water in Tila Shahbazpur, near Delhi
A Wi-Fi-enabled village with no potable water! Yes, this is Tila Shahbazpur, which was in the news a few months ago as the first village in Uttar Pradesh to get Wi-Fi connectivity.
“While [Delhi Chief Minister Arvind] Kejriwal is yet to fulfil his promise, we have done it in no time,” boasted Samajwadi Party leader Ishwar Mavi, who belongs to this village situated 8k from the Capital. What he did not say, however, was that the residents don’t have water supply and what the hand-pump spouts is highly contaminated and undrinkable. This is due to the illegal chemical factories that are thriving (at night) less than a kilometre from the village, despite innumerable complaints by the panchayat.
...not a drop to drink
It is ironic that while the villagers who have Wi-Fi connection pay 200 for 5GB download each month, they spend 60-70 every day to get clean water from an RO (reverse osmosis) plant outside the village. Those who cannot pay for the clean water face health risks.
Gaurav Tyagi, an engineer from Grads Network, says 250 villagers have bought a Wi-Fi connection. Joginder Mavi, who owns a car service station, says he uses Facebook to sell old cars. Otherwise, it is mostly students or the youth who are using the facility.
For young boys like Suraj and Neeraj, who belong to well-to-do, politically powerful families, Facebook is a newfound pass-time ever since their village became ‘Wi-Fi wala’. However, students of modest means have no use for Wi-Fi as there are no computers in their government school and most don’t own mobile phones with internet features. Gaurav from Harijan basti says not many in his locality can spare 200 a month for Wi-Fi. Leelaram, a Dalit social worker, says the Harijan basti has no facilities. Even the community hall that was constructed by a gas company has neither a power connection nor drinking water.
The big divide
“They are living in a pitiable condition and the quality of teaching in the government schools, where most of them study, is pathetic. The five-bed hospital constructed some time ago remains locked with no staff.
There is a sharp economic and social divide in the village, which was declared ‘Adarsh Gaon’ (ideal village) more than a decade ago.”
As Shahbazpur village is close to Delhi, families that sold their agriculture land to either Ghaziabad Development Agency or other private players received hefty payments (as high as 70 lakh per bigha, it is said) and became rich overnight.
So, while some families own luxury cars worth crores of rupees and live in palatial houses, one-third of the village continues to struggle for daily existence, eking a living either as farmhands or labourers.
Preetam Chandel, a gutsy woman fighting for justice in a dowry death case concerning her daughter, asks what use is Wi-Fi when one has no access to a basic need such as potable water.
So while neighbouring villages envy this Wi-Fi-wala hamlet, people like Chandel are disturbed at the government’s “misplaced priorities”.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi
The Hindu Business Line, 17 July, 2015, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/thirsty-in-a-wifiwala-village/article7434670.ece?homepage=true&theme=true