Even as the eleventh water-bearing train chugged into Latur station on Friday, bringing in 25 lakh litres of water in its 50 wagons, it was clear that the thirst felt by this city cannot be quenched with just this much.
So far, the 11 trains — nine with 10 wagons and two with 50 wagons — have supplied 95 lakh litres of water to the city. That is at least 100 lakh litres less than what Latur, a city of five lakh, needs daily (around 220 to 250 lakh litres).
What it is surviving on is just the bare minimum at 35 lakh litres a day, distributed through public tankers, because the civic body cannot risk using its dated pipeline system — it goes back to the days of the Nizam rule. This would mean losing 50% of the water to leakage. So, for the first time in its history, Latur — not new to water scarcity — will have to do without taps for five months.
The civic body first stopped supplying water through its pipeline system at the end of February this year.
This 35 lakh litres used by the city daily now is less than the daily water used by just 11 breweries and distilleries (45 lakh litres), 300 km away near Aurangabad, Marathwada’s most industrialised city.
Unless the government, which is patting itself on the back for the water train initiative, ensures one 50 wagon train daily, carrying 25 lakh litres, for the next two months until July, Latur may not even have its bare minimum water.
“We will need a 50-wagon train to Latur daily for the next two months. Even if one considers norms lower than that of international standards of per person per day water requirement at 50 litres, we would need around 250 lakh litres a day. But we are making do with 35 lakh litres a day,” said the city’s civic commissioner Sudhakar Telang, admitting that May was going to be a challenge. The supply of 35 lakh litres means seven litres a person, which is paltry considering the fact that Mumbai civic body supplies 135 litres per person even after a 20% cut in supply.
The Latur civic body is tapping into two other sources — the Lower Terna dam in Osmanabad and Dongerwadi barrage — but these are fast depleting. It also controls 1,000 borewells, but many of them have gone dry.
Telang’s priorities are clear. He said the civic body was focusing on 25% of the water requirement of the city — used for drinking. If one reads between the lines, this means the remaining 75 % needed for washing, cleaning would be met by the citizens at their cost through private tankers, NGOs or the goodwill of neighbours, if any one still had borewells with water. There are after all 30,000-odd borewells in the city and many still have water, which is now being sold privately.
There is, however, no guarantee that private tankers can continue to find sources of water around the city’s 20 to 30km radius, to sell it to the city. And so far, there is no guarantee of Latur even getting a 50-wagon train daily.
On the surface though Latur continues to retain normalcy, with its streets holding traffic, its hotels, restaurants, shops and markets open and running. Citizens have resigned to water rationing and queueing up for hours to get their share from the tanks in newly acquired plastic pots, tanks or by shelling out money to buy water. But, this may just be the calm before the storm.
“We thought once this train starts, our water woes will be over, but now we feel we are getting even less water than before. The water distribution through tankers has no checks or balances and some like us, who come to the few remaining public taps for water, need to wait for hours for our turn. It would be much better to get water pipeline supply even if it was once a month. Now, it’s more difficult to get enough water daily than to make a living for a family of four,” said Sandeep Kamble, an autorickshaw driver, whose wait at a public tap in the city began on Friday at 3am and ended at 9.30am. The public taps are connected to municipal tanks, where water is filled and stored by the civic body. Tankers are filled from here every morning. It also provides water to 6-7 public taps at city squares.