Say you drop your brand-new smartphone into a reservoir while posing for a selfie during a picnic. Would you consider it lost and buy a replacement, or drain the reservoir to retrieve it?
An Indian official who chose the latter option has been suspended from his job. He is also facing the glare of the national news media in a drought-prone country where water is a precious commodity.
The official, Rajesh Vishwas, 32, was picnicking with friends in central India on May 21 when he dropped his Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra into the Paralkot reservoir in Chhattisgarh State, where he lives. The $1,200 device is a new model, and Mr. Vishwas, a government food inspector, apparently decided that he had to have it back and claimed that it had official departmental data, according to NDTV, the Indian television station.
Initially, some villagers he knew spent two days diving in the reservoir in an attempt to retrieve the phone, Mr. Vishwas told The Indian Express newspaper. No luck. So he rented a diesel pump and drained about three feet of water over another two days — by some estimates, enough to irrigate 1,500 acres of farmland.
Mr. Vishwas later said he had received “oral permission” from R.C. Dhivar, an official at the local Water Resources Department, to drain three or four feet of water. Mr. Dhivar said that doing so “would in fact benefit the farmers,” Mr. Vishwas told NDTV.
Attempts to reach both men for comment on Saturday were unsuccessful. Priyanka Shukla, a top local official, said in an interview on Saturday that Mr. Vishwas had no authority to drain the water.
Whatever the arrangement was, it backfired.
By the time Mr. Vishwas retrieved his phone this past week, it was unusable, according to reports in the Indian news media. And after word of his operation made headlines across the country, he was temporarily removed from his post for having “misused his position.”
As for Mr. Dhivar, officials said they had asked him to explain his position on the episode, in writing, within two days. He could eventually face disciplinary action.
The incident drew criticism from some prominent pundits and politicians, including Raman Singh, a former Chhattisgarh State chief minister.
“Today in the scorching heat people are dependent on tankers, there is no arrangement for even drinking water,” Mr. Singh, a leader from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in opposition in the state, wrote on Twitter on Friday. At the same time, he added, with the water drained in the effort to retrieve Mr. Vishwas’s phone, “one and a half thousand acres of land could have been irrigated.”
India, which is among the world’s most water-stressed countries, has experienced several major heat waves and droughts in recent years. They are vivid reminders of how exceedingly vulnerable the nation is to the effects of global warming.
Mr. Vishwas told The Indian Express that news reports of his phone-retrieval operation had been greatly exaggerated. He also said the Paralkot reservoir was not used for irrigation.
But Ms. Shukla, a district magistrate in the area, said that local farmers did rely on it to irrigate their fields.
“He will face consequences for draining the water, and this won’t be tolerated,” she added.