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S Mumbai gets dirtiest water

mumbai Updated: Apr 18, 2011 00:45 IST
Highlight Story

Even as the death of 30-year-old Tara Maire, apparently due to contamination of drinking water has left many shaken, there’s more bad news for Mumbaiites.

According to civic records obtained by Hindustan Times, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011, received 4,461 complaints about water contamination. Significantly, a majority of these complaints – a worrying 3,373 – came from the island city.

The western suburbs were a distant second with 824 complaints, while the eastern suburbs had 154 complaints.

Of all these complaints, the civic body attended to 4,377 complaints, leaving 84 complaints unattended to as on March 31, 2011.

The C ward alone consisting of areas like Kalbadevi, Marine Lines, Mumbadevi, Kumbharwada, Bhuleshwar, Dhobi Talao and Fanaswadi, saw almost a quarter of the total complaints being received – 1,176 in one year.

These figures come at a time when the Bombay high court has slammed the civic body for failing to provide safe drinking water to citizens.

Why the contamination?

Officials said a host of reasons were to be blamed for the contaminated water in our taps. “Old pipelines is obviously a factor, which makes the pipes more susceptible to corrosion and, as a result, contamination. We are in the process of replacing the main supply pipelines that bring water from the Tansa Lake to the city,” said Rajiv Jalota, additional municipal commissioner. Jalota also said that in addition to this, the civic body has been replacing pipelines laid within city limits.

Last year, the civic body replaced 183 km of such pipelines. “This year, in 2011-12, we plan to replace another 182 km of old, corroded pipelines,” Jalota said.

Civic officials also said private sources were to be blamed for contamination. “Many a time, civic water supply is not the reason for contamination. Once civic water reaches the building, suction tanks and overhead water tanks contaminate the water and hence, you get contaminated water in your taps.”

Why is contamination in south Mumbai higher?

Civic officials, from the hydraulic engineer’s department, said they were not surprised by the higher rate of contamination in the island city.

Old buildings in the island city have narrow gaps between them, which are called ‘house gullies’. Most times, these gullies are unclean, and become a site for dumping garbage.

Old, corroded pipelines running through these ‘house gullies’ are susceptible to contamination from this filth. “These house gullies are generally filthy, plus sewage lines run alongside. The island city has a vast network of old, corroded pipelines. Because of this corrosion, it’s easier for sewage to enter the pipelines, and cause contamination. The unclean gullies also make detection of leaks difficult,” Jalota said.

An official from the hydraulic engineer’s department, not wishing to be named, said cleaning such house gullies was a problem. “It becomes very difficult to enter these house gullies, especially because locals keep throwing garbage, unmindful of our workers cleaning them. It has come to a point when our workers also express reluctance over cleaning them because they are continuously bombarded with garbage from the top.”

The road ahead?

Rattled by the high court’s constant criticism, the BMC has planned a slew of steps to tackle contamination (See Graphic). However, civic officials admit that ridding the city of water contamination is difficult.

“We are, however, trying to tackle the problem in different ways. In addition to preventing contamination from occurring, we are also looking at ways where we can tackle contamination more effectively once it occurs.

This includes making it easier for citizens to register their grievances with us. Hopefully, the difference will be seen soon,” Jalota said.

Is it enough?

“It is important for people to have more awareness on how to avoid contamination of water in private sources. South Mumbai has a serious contamination problem, because most pipelines pass through house gullies that are very dirty, and hence, detection of leakages in them becomes difficult. The only way to solve this problem is by having pipelines, at least in the house gullies in south Mumbai, raised by at least three feet or so.

Unless this is done, tackling contamination in the island city will become very difficult,” said Anand Deodhar, former hydraulic engineer, BMC.