For Manohar Phansekar and his friends, residents of Mankhurd’s Bainganwadi slum, water scarcity was a common occurrence. However, the sight of desperate residents digging holes outside their homes trying to unearth water motivated them to get the root of the problem.
Dry taps and empty water storage tanks are a common sight in Bainganwadi slum with the limited quota of daily water supply leading to long queues and quarrels among the residents. Last year Phansekar, along with his locality friends, decided to study and get to the root of the water problem that was leading to infections and death due to malnourishment.
“We noticed that there was tremendous unevenness of water supply in our area due to political pressure and improper implementation of plans by the civic body,” said Phansekar, a youth fellow of the Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (Pukar) fellowship. “It was only when we started investigating the matter by talking to the locals and concerned civic officials, and filing Right To Information (RTI) applications that we realised the area was receiving just half of the allotted supply of water. Some areas were not even receiving that amount,” he added.
According to the group, locals spent a huge part of their savings to pay for private tankers because of their ignorance, giving rise to a nexus between the local politicians and the people selling tankers. In an attempt to save money, the group said, locals even dug 20-foot holes outside their own houses and resorted to using the contaminated sewage water for daily activities.
“Improper city planning has left several slums and slum dwellers unaccounted for. On account of the active political influence in Bainganwadi, the group identified several lobbies that not just provide water but also control its non-provision in certain areas,” said Dr Amita Bhide, professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who mentored the students. “The main idea behind this project was the attempt to find a comprehensive solution to the problem. Local awareness is primary; residents need to be taught how to politically frame a demand,” he added.