Ashumati Patel (55) was apprehensive as she offered a glass of water. “These are the last drops we have,” said the grandmother, a Mira Road resident, as the youngest in her five-member family, Hetal (10), ran to the balcony to check whether the water tanker has arrived.
Rows of freshly-washed clothes hung from the balcony while Ashumati’s daughter-in-law dipped an urn into a plastic drum to scoop out the little remaining water. She poured it into buckets and carried them to the toilet, careful not to spill a drop. “Once the tanker comes, we will fill the drum,” said Ashumati, pointing to the washed clothes. “These were lying unwashed for days. We don’t wash clothes every day. We only do so if we are certain that a tanker is coming,” sighed Ashumati.
The Patel family is just one among the thousands suffering from the acute water shortage in Mira Road and Bhayander, which have seen rapid urbanisation over the last decade but little or no increase in civic infrastructure.
Last month, Hindustan Times and Ipsos Indica Research surveyed over 10,000 Mumbaiites and met with citizen groups to understand their micro-level concerns. The water crisis in Mira Road and Bhayander figured prominently in those discussions. The survey showed that water was among the most pressing concerns across the city.
Mira-Bhayander civic chief Shivmurty Naik said that while the demand is for 150 million litres a day, the supply is only 86 million litres. Naik said the government has sanctioned a project that would supply the townships with 200 million litres a day, but it will take two to three years to be completed.
Her daughter-in-law said Ashumati’s blood pressure problem has worsened ever since the civic water supply to Hyness Park, where they live, turned unreliable in the last fortnight.
“There is no water to bathe, cook and, at times, to drink. Every day, I spend Rs 150 on tankers [for 500 litres]. Our income is only Rs 10,000 per month; how can I run the house if I spend Rs 4,000 on water alone,” asked Ashumati.
The last time the building received municipal water was four days ago. “The supply lasted eight to 10 minutes. The water level in the ground-floor tanks fell so low, even the pumps could not lift it to the terrace tank,” she said.
The water crisis has resulted in a windfall for the tanker lobby, which quotes exorbitant prices for the water which, it is suspected, they get from the civic body by bribing officials.
On paper, the civic body supplies 86 million litres every 36 hours to Mira Road and Bhayander. In reality, many areas don’t receive water for two to three days in a row. As if that wasn’t enough, the civic body suspends supply for a day every week. At such times, the supply is once in 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the tanker that would fill the tanks at Ashumati’s building was delayed. A despairing Ashumati asked her daughter-in-law to borrow a bucket of water from the neighbouring building. “I will wait a month. If the problem persists, I will sell my house and return to my village in Gujarat,” she said.