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Water crisis in Darjeeling

Despite increasing multiplexes and shopping malls in the in the city, there is no end in sight for water woes, reports Amitava Banerjee.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2007 19:37 IST

If multiplexes and shopping malls displaying weighty brand names is the measurement for urbanization, then Darjeeling could well fit the bill. However it is quite perplexing as to how to rate a shop selling water in the same town.

Not mineral water but tanks full of spring water being guzzled up by residents, that too in queues waiting patiently with jerry cans during times of crisis. It could easily be passed of as a scene straight out of the Hollywood blockbuster Mad Max, where survival revolved around hunting for fuel and water.

With drinking water becoming scarce day by day, the civic authorities and the Government having failed miserably to bring respite, Khush Narayan Pradhan decided to act on the law of “Necessity is the mother of Invention” and invented a indigenous shop – a shop that would sell water, where people could walk in with jerry cans, buy the desired amount of water and go back happy. The shop with no name (he has not yet found a befitting one) on MK Gongba Road in the heart of the town is not a very elaborate affair. Huge water tanks line up both sides of the shop along with a humble table and chair.

Prabesh Pradhan, Kush Narayan’s nephew who looks after the business stated “Initially this setup was for our own family but as crisis grew in the locality, we decided to convert it into a commercial venture.” The shop now does brisk business. "We have 7000 liters of storage capacity and everyday the entire stock is sold out” stated Prabesh. However he is not quite sure of what will happen in monsoon, as the shop is around 2 months old and has not yet seen a monsoon. Spring water brought in water tankers at night and the shop tanks are refilled. "We sell water at the rate of 30p per liter and one can buy any amount of water required. We even sell 1 liter if required” added Prabesh.

Water is a sellable commodity in Darjeeling. Even before the existence of this Water shop, water was being sold in hand carts and water tankers. However the flexibility of buying quantity adopted by the shop scored over both the hand carts and the tankers. While one has to buy a full hand cart load at one time (240 liters) as for the water tankers one has to buy a minimum of half a tanker of water (3000 liters). “It is very convenient for us to buy water from this shop.

We get the desired amount of water as per our requirements. In Darjeeling most of the people don’t have huge water storage tanks, so buying tanker and handcart loads often pose storage problems. That too tankers and handcarts are very difficult to locate during lean periods.” stated Nimit, a girl from the locality. “We now have long water pipes which is being used for door to door delivery in nearby areas like SM Das Road and the Birchwood area” added Prabesh, satisfied with the sound economics of this unique venture. In future expansion of this business could be a probability.

Water supply figures definitely indicate the mushrooming of such water shops in near future. “Who knows what the future has in store for Darjeeling. We could well see water stations like gas stations soon” stated a resident. Incidentally the same two water reservoirs built by the British catering to the 25,000 odd population of that era, now caters to the 1 lakh population plus a huge floating population of the Darjeeling town. The average demand for the Darjeeling town is 15 lakh gallons but the availability is 5 Lakh gallons. This amounts to a per capita water supply of 22 liters whilst the national standard in 70 litres per day. That too there is no regular supply of water. Some municipal areas receive water once a week. The more fortunate receive it once in four days. The paradox- Darjeeling is a place with one of the highest rate of rainfall in the country.