Call it gross oversight or good old bungling by the babu, but the West Bengal fire services department could be sending polluted water to cyclone-hit areas in South 24 Parganas.
The state government, in a desperate urge to send relief to more than one lakh affected people, had urged the department to deploy four fire tenders to supply “safe drinking water”.
But the department sent vehicles with whatever water was stored in the 16,000 litre tanks, knowing well that they are never washed or disinfected and the water is not fit for human consumption.
Though the director of department claimed that the tanks were first disinfected, insiders told HT that no such measures were taken. The department is only using Halogen tablets to make the water “safe”, they said.
Director of Fire Brigade, Gopal Bhattacharjee, told HT: “It was at Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee’s request that we deployed four vehicles. Since Friday our tankers are ferrying drinking water to cyclone-affected areas. Each vehicle has a capacity of 16,000 litres. Everyday the tanks are refilled at Mullickghat and Wellington Square. They come back at night and return with fresh supply.”
Chatterjee belongs to the Forward Bloc, one of the smaller allies of the CPI(M).
Asked if the tankers have been disinfected and the water being supplied is potable, he said: “Yes. We have disinfected our tanks and the water is safe.”
But officials in the department who operate the vehicle and oversee fire-fighting operations narrated a different story.
A senior officer, speaking to HT on condition of anonymity, said: “The tanks have not been disinfected and the water being supplied is not drinking water by any standards.”
The vehicles, he said, had never been used for ferrying drinking water and were pressed into service only for fire fighting. During such operations, water is collected from the Hooghly, ponds and even hydrants. Though the tanks have a capacity of 16,000 litres and are filled to the brim there is always a leftover of 2,000 litres after fire-fighting, which is never cleaned. If more water is required, the remaining portion — i.e. 14,000 litres — is filled up.
“So there is always some residual water, which becomes toxic over time. This apart, our tanks are never washed. Also, the hose pipes with which the water is supplied are kept on the road and in chemical godowns when we have to fight fire”
“So even if we fill up the tanks with drinking water it does not mean that the water being supplied is pure. It is totally unfit for human consumption,” he added.
Another senior fire brigade officer said: “One of our vehicles are working in Basati area. The tank has not been disinfected. But the water is being treated with Halogen tablets and other disinfectants.”
Member Mayor in Council (Water) of the Kolkata Muncipal Corporation Mrinal Mondol also threw some light. “The fire brigade frequently takes water from us. Sometimes they take filtered water sometimes unfiltered water. Our Mullick Ghat station, however, supplies unfiltered water which is not fit for drinking”.