M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Special
Punjab, Haryana left high & dry
All they want is adequate supply of potable water
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 27
The search for clean and safe drinking water is getting tougher in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh as summer advances. Demonstrators carrying cans, buckets and bottles of turbid, brackish, muddy and dirty water have been thronging offices of public health authorities to tell them what they have been getting in the name of potable water.

If the Ghar Sangharsh Samiti organised a huge demonstration in Yamunanagar last week, Ludhiana residents vented their ire outside the Municipal Corporation office. In Malerkotla, water is rationed and inhabitants have to queue up and wait for hours to get one bucket a family!

And as summer tightens its grip, along with water scarcity come long scheduled and unscheduled power cuts and rising incidences of water-borne diseases, including gastroenteritis, cholera and diarrhoea. Punjab and parts of Haryana already have high incidence of cancer, possibly because of brackish and highly-polluted underground water.

And recently, when McKinsey & Company released in New Delhi its report ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, it cautioned: “If existing services are not improved drastically, the per capita water supply to the average citizen could drop from 105 litres to 65 a day in the next 20 years.”

The report paints a grim picture of the present urban landscape. It says dry taps, untreated sewage, gigantic piles of solid waste and plastic and polythene bags strewn in water channels, including canals, make life miserable in urban areas.

Hit by a resource crunch, 70-80 per cent sewage generated in the country would go untreated. Of the 377 MT solid waste that would be generated every year by 2030, only about 295 MT will be collected because of inadequate facilities.

Thirteen cities will have a population of more than four million by 2030, with five states — Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab — likely to be more than 50 per cent urbanised. “India’s approach to urbanisation is likely to result in an urban gridlock and chaos, jeopardising the 7.4 per cent growth rate. India needs to act with urgency for the well being of its citizens and economy,” the report states. To gauge the gravity of the situation, The Tribune conducted an in-depth survey on the availability of potable water and found that adequate potable water is a rarity in many parts of Haryana, particularly rural and remote areas. Acute shortage in rural areas has been triggered by long power cuts. Irked by shortages, the Ghar Sangharsh Samiti — representing 150 villages in Yamunanagar district — held a protest this week accusing the government of neglecting people living in the vicinity of the Shivalik hills. Residents of these villagers have to travel three-four kilometers to reach a water source.

As if that weren’t enough, these villages are facing power cuts of 18 hours and more. In many, power supply is restricted to a few hours on alternate day. Worst-affected areas include Bilaspur, Chhachhrauli and Sadhaura.

“The total supply of water in Rohtak has been around 80 lakh gallons a day,” claims Baldev Khasa, an official of the Public Health Department. Ten boosters and three water works — dependent mainly upon canal water — are operational. While officials claim water quality is good, residents have turned to reverse osmosis domestic water purifiers.

In addition to the 50,000 connections, hundreds of offices and commercial establishments in Rohtak receive cold and treated water supply from private sources in 20-litre bubble tops. In villages, power cuts have worsened supply. Private tankers ferry water in some affected areas, including colonies on the outskirts of Rohtak and in nearby villages.

In Sirsa town and surrounding areas, taps in many localities have gone dry. In other areas, residents have no choice but to drink contaminated water owing to the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities. Outer localities like Kirti Nagar, Parmarth Colony, Preet Nagar, Inderpura Mohalla, Chhatargarh Patti, Old Housing Board Colony and Balmiki Chowk area are the worst affected.Arun Mehta, who runs a free water tanker service, said, “We receive calls from these colonies every day. We have a 6000-litre tanker. It makes six-eight rounds of the town every day to supply drinking water.”

Residents of Sirsa’s Gobind Nagar, Vishal Nagar and Prem Nagar complained that turbid and foul smelling water was being supplied to them. Even residents of the posh C-Block and B-Block had to face water scarcity continuously for three days last week.

“We have 54 tubewells. In addition, our storage tanks get uninterrupted supply from Sirsa Major and Sukhchain Distributory canals that run alternatively,” said TC Gupta, Executive Engineer of the Public Health Department. He said there was no scarcity of drinking water in the area.Things are no better in Hisar. Here, canals are the only source of water as groundwater in the area is brackish. However, these have been dry for a month. (With inputs from Kirandeep, Brijendra Ahlawat, Sushil Manav and Raman Mohan)

n Tomorrow: The Punjab story





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