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Latur: Where tankers get police protection

Arrival of water tanker, which is not guaranteed even after spending double the market rate, leads to a riot-like situation here

mumbai Updated: Apr 06, 2016 11:08 IST
Debasish Panigrahi
People gather to collect drinking water in Latur.
People gather to collect drinking water in Latur. (Arijit Sen/HT)

“Don’t feel bad I can’t offer you water. I have just one bottle of water for the entire day,” this is how we are apologetically greeted by the sentry at the gate of Latur collector Pandurang Pole’s official residence in the plush Barshi Road area. He tells us the last time a water tanker visited the collector’s bungalow was a week ago. The remaining stock is barely sufficient for the family.

Half a kilometer away, the urine stench fills office rooms and corridors of the district (revenue) headquarters complex. Water taps are running dry. Dirty toilets and washrooms have not been cleaned for a month.

This is the harsh reality in Latur city, the second largest city in Marathwada with a population of more than 5 lakh, which is battling severe water crunch that gets only worse with each passing day. Called the education hub of the state, the city receives a floating population of 1 lakh of students, who get enrolled with private coaching classes, and their guardians.

Watch | Drought-hit Latur faces water crisis, tankers get police protection

With storage water level in the three reservoirs -- Dongargaon, Bhandarwadi and Manjra dams -- that supply water to the city reduced to nil or below 1 per cent, Latur seems to be heading towards an unprecedented crisis.

District officials say they are relying on a recently sanctioned scheme to get water from Lower Terna dam, 70km away from Latur city, to tide over the crisis. “We are hopeful of getting 4 million litres of water daily once the pumps and pipelines are laid. The work should be completed within a fortnight. With this stock, we can manage till the first week of June. If the monsoon is delayed, we will get water from Pandharpur by train,” says Narayan Ubale, resident deputy collector, Latur.

Currently, long queues of pots and drums are common sight in Latur’s bylanes and the arrival of a water tanker leads to a riot-like situation, even in affluent residential areas. Here, water tankers get police protection.

People fill up all their utensils to ensure they have enough water throughout the week. (Arijit Sen/HT)

Sitam Sonawane, a journalist with a Marathi daily, says violent fights over water have been reported in slum pockets such as Boudh Nagar and Anjani Nagar. “The situation will get worse as the crisis intensifies,” he says.

On March 10, the authorities had to impose prohibitory orders when villagers objected to sharing water at Dhanegaon reservoir, which has just .81 mm3 water (1 per cent of the total stock) left. Latur’s superintendent of police DS Chavan said 15 “small” incidents of heated arguments and scuffles between residents and tanker operators have been reported. “They were not serious. We are providing protection to tankers at filling and distribution points,” he says.

The administration claims residents in the municipal area get tankers every 8-10 days. “Apart from the stock at the reservoirs, we have acquired 1,070 private bore wells. Every day, around 127 tankers are filled and the water is distributed to different localities by rotation,” Ubale says.

Residents line up drums as they wait for municipal tankers. (Arijit Sen/HT)

On an average, a person gets around 30 litres of municipal water (roughly 3 buckets) in a week. Refuting the claims, Sonawane says the water carried by tankers (mostly with a capacity of 10,000 litres) gets over after filling some pots and drums at the start of the lane. “If your house is on either side of the lane, you are lucky to get water. If you are living in the middle, chances are you may not get water for weeks together,” says Sonawane.

The uncertainty over municipal water (tanker) supply has burnt a hole in the pockets of most of the residents, as they are forced to pay exorbitant prices to private operators. Prices of private tankers water have gone up by 100 per cent in the past 2 weeks.

“How can a family of 3-4 manage with just about 200 litres of municipality water for a week? It is not even enough for drinking too,” says Ramchandra Kanade, a father of two children, who runs a small paan-bidi shop in Shivaji Chowk.

These days, he opens his shop early in the morning and works till late in the night, so he could earn more. “Every day, I spend Rs150 on water. I don’t know how long we can sustain this.”

Sonawane says the crisis has hit the middle class the most. “Yesterday, I bought 2,000 litres of water for Rs600 (against the usual price of Rs300-Rs350). I live in a joint family and the stock may not last for two days,” he says.

Situation in rich or upper-middle class households is no better. “It doesn’t matter of how much you can pay. It is about the availability of water. The tankers queue up at the filling points and receive their quota only when their turn comes. No matter how much you are ready to pay, there is no guarantee the tanker will get water,” Sonawane says. “The poor, who work as daily wage labourers, will be worst hit as the situation goes from bad to worse.”