Even as Katra, the base camp for the Vaishno Devi shrine, faces an acute shortage of drinking water, private tanker owners, allegedly in nexus with revenue and public health engineering department officials, are illegally extracting water from the Jaghar river and selling it to local residents and hoteliers.
Local residents and hoteliers alleged that to meet their daily requirement, they had to buy water from private water tanker owners, who charged between Rs. 600 and Rs. 700.
Besides, thousands of pilgrims who come to pay obeisance at the shrine, are also at the receiving end as they too have to purchase drinking water. A local resident, Raghav Sharma, alleged that there was a nexus between officials companies manufacturing mineral water bottles.
Local MLA Baldev Raj Sharma said the supply of water to Katra was only 5 lakh gallons, against the daily requirement of 20 lakh gallons. He added that he had raised the issue in the assembly, but nothing has happened.
The hotel and restaurants' association, Katra, said they had appealed to the state government to take steps to solve the problem of water scarcity, as on an average a hotel owner had to spend more than Rs. 50,000 a month on water tankers, but till date the government had done nothing.
Parvesh Kumar, a social worker, said on the one hand PHE department said there was water scarcity and on the other hundreds of private water tankers and private mineral water company were extracting water from the Jaghar river and illegally selling it to pilgrims, locals and hoteliers at high rates. He added that interestingly, a government order restricted the illegal sale of water but despite that the practice was going on.
The PHE, Reasi, executive engineer admitted that the department was able to maintain less that 50% of the total requirement. "We hope to improve the situation by next year as the Rs. 42-crore Dhansar water supply project was in the final stage. The project has a capacity of 16 lakh gallon and is scheduled to be commissioned by 2014."