About 55 kilometres east of Thane lies the hamlet of Tarali. Comprising about 30 houses and a few fields, Tarali’s most noteworthy features are the two 72-inch-wide pipelines that carry 550 million litres of water a day from Tansa lake to the Pise Panjrapur pumping station. This water is one-sixth of Mumbai’s daily supply.
Every morning, Tarali’s residents collect by the pipeline and fill their buckets from the numerous leaks from which at least 30,000 litres a day are lost. There isn’t a guard in sight. There is a civic post, but the personnel manning it are not interested. “Not much is stolen anyway,” they said, justifying their inaction.
Civic officials said the pipeline is repaired regularly, but is punctured again almost immediately by locals for whom this is their primary source of water.
This is the scene along much of Mumbai’s water network, which loses 30 lakh litres a day to theft and leaks. Security isn’t on anybody’s mind.
In the last seven years, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has alerted the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) twice of a possible attack on the city through the water network — by poisoning of the water, for instance.
The first alert came in 2003. The IB warned that hutments on or near pipelines could be used to sabotage the network. There was a similar warning last year too, which said saltpans, water bodies and the mains are soft targets.
“Security should be beefed up, especially since terror attacks are on the rise,” said Anand Deodhar, a retired civic hydraulic engineer.
The network, though, remains largely unguarded.
When Hindustan Times travelled along the Tansa main in Bhiwandi taluka, where the Pise Panjrapur plant is located and from where all the water lines come to the city, it found only a handful of tiny security posts, often 10 kilometres apart.
The road along the pipelines is meant only for security personnel and civic officials, but is routinely used by private vehicles. At several spots, locals had punctured the pipeline.
The first ever alert was in 1965, a few months after the India-Pakistan war ended. “A van of State Reserve Police Force personnel was stationed near Kapurbawdi near Thane. The arrangement persists till today. But nothing else was done. Such warnings were never taken seriously,” said an official at Gundawali, on condition of anonymity.
Along the pipeline, slums and commercial units have sprung up just 30 feet away from the mains. In Valpada and Pogaon, too, encroachments are within touching distance of the pipeline.
“Guards have been posted along the 60-kilometre stretch from the city to Mulund. The security will be extended till Bhiwandi,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Anil Diggikar.
Mayor wants probe
Mayor Shraddha Jadhav has demanded an inquiry into the frequent pipe bursts in the city. “There should be a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe to ascertain whether these were acts of sabotage,” said Jadhav, who plans to write to Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on the matter. However, the civic administration denied any terror angle. Diggikar told the general body: “It is the age of the pipelines that is the problem.”