The rains, no matter how erratic, may have brought some relief to Kolkata but round-the-clock-supply of potable water in every part of the city remains a distant dream despite efforts by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).
While acute scarcity of water is a reality in many parts of the city, it is also a fact that despite KMC spending crores on the treatment of surface water supplied to 2.5 lakh households daily, 57.3% of Kolkatans have to spend on purification of the water they get just to make it safe.
“People standing in long queues in front of tubewells or containers kept in long rows near roadside water outlets are still a common sight in some areas during summers. And, this is going to continue no matter which party comes to power,” said a senior technocrat associated with the supply department at KMC, which is under the control of Trinamool Congress since 2010.
Different pockets in Kolkata such as Beliaghata, Manicktala, Kakurgachi, Phool Bagan, Jadavpur, Garden Reach, Kidderpore, Tiljala, Topsia and parts of Kasba come under the so-called dry areas, KMC officials say.
“Only 5% of the area under KMC’s jurisdiction is facing problems relating to drinking water.
In the rest of the city, water is abundant and supply meets the national standard,” mayor Sovan Chatterjee claimed.
The problem, however, persists and technocrats blame it on acute land crisis and Mamata Banerjee’s land policy.
“Some pockets in Kolkata will never get filtered potable water because there is no land to set up booster pumping stations. Only booster pumps can increase the flow of water in distant areas through pipelines,” a senior KMC engineer said.
Most KMC engineers feel only introduction of water tax can guarantee supply of treated surface water to every citizen. Interestingly, wastage of water is also a significant factor, the engineers feel.
“Unless you control wastage of water at the consumers’ end, which accounts for as much as 30% of the filtered water produced, it is impossible to provide water to all.
And, unless we introduce tax and water meters, such wastage cannot be controlled,” a senior engineer of the water supply department said.
KMC engineers feel areas such as Cossipore get water for almost 18 hours a day, while most parts of North and central Kolkata are supplied water for six to eight hours a day. South Kolkata receives water for four to six hours.
However, areas where groundwater is locally tapped and pumped to homes through pipelines receive water for seven to eight hours a day.
A study by Jadavpur University has revealed that despite the KMC spending crores on treatment of surface water supplied to 2.5 lakh households daily, 57.3% Kolkatans have to spend additionally to purify the water they get.
Ironically, the findings also indicate that Kolkatans spend significantly more on treated water for purposes other than drinking.
In the higher income group (HIG) category, the average daily consumption per head is 70.77 litres on uses such as cleaning, 5.1 litres on drinking and 10.77 litres on cooking.
The trend is similar even in the below poverty level (BPL) category where the daily consumption per head is 51.3 litres on other end uses and 4.53 litres on drinking.
The average consumer in the middle-income group (MIG) is satisfied with only 4.81 litres for drinking water compared to a whopping 61.47 litres for other uses.
For obvious reasons, the KMC cannot meet the total demand and consumers have to depend on other sources also.
For an alternative source of drinking water (other than the KMC house connections) even the BPL category depends on vendors for 4.9% of the water it consumes and on the community wells and tubewells for 25.9% of its total demand.
As much as 6.3% consumers in the HIG depend on bottled water and another 6.3% on water vendors. The LIG consumers buy 5.4% of their requirement from vendors, while 3.5% MIG consumers depend on bottled water.
The survey also reveals that despite getting ‘free’ water from the KMC, every citizen spends at least 4% of their monthly income to buy quality water from the market only to ensure protection from water-borne diseases.
On arsenic contamination, a raging issue in many districts in Bengal, KMC officials said 393 groundwater samples had been tested and only 32 contained arsenic but its amount was much below 0.05 mg/litre, the standard threat level recognised nationally.
“If the content of arsenic in any deep tubewell is above the national threat level we shut it down immediately,” Chatterjee said.
According to civic engineers, most of the pipelines are 100 years old and require immediate replacement or repair so that there is no interruption in supply.
“We have already restored 500 km out of a total 5,000 km-long distribution network in Kolkata,” an engineer said.
No matter how far science may have progressed, the overhead tank set up during the British era at Tallah remains not just a landmark in civic engineering but also an integral part of the city’s water supply system.
The KMC has sought help from virtually every institute and resource pool to undertake refurbishment of the 104-year-old Tallah Tank, the world’s only surviving elevated water reservoir.
Preliminary investigation by RITES Ltd and experts from Jadavpur University has revealed that the historic tank, with a capacity of nine million gallons, is in critical condition. Some deformation and damage needs immediate restoration.
According to KMC records, the erstwhile Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) undertook extensive repairs in 197879 and replaced the bottom of the tank, changed parts of the body and welded new sheets.
The total expenditure was Rs 23.5 lakh. The historic steel tank, placed at a height of 110 feet, has four compartments each of which can be used independently.
“One or more compartments can be decommissioned any time for repairs, without interrupting supply of water,” said an official, asserting that there will be no major disruption in distribution during repair work.
Built at a cost of around Rs 18 lakh, the tank was designed in 1901 and commissioned in 1911.