These days, even the less educated dwellers of Lal Singh Basti speak like civil engineers. It's not that they have found a sudden interest in the subject.
The mistakes of officials of the municipal corporation and Punjab water supply and sewerage board (PWSSB) have taught them what they know. Self-research has help them find out what's wrong with the new-laid sewerage network. Even the highly qualified and well-paid technical officials of the district administration have failed to answer the people's questions that have now reached the judiciary.
Even 18 months into the work, the sewerage project is incomplete. The sewerage board and MC have let Rs 50 crore of taxpayers' money down the drain by working on a false blueprint to connect the sewers of wards 31 and 38. "Do you believe sewage will have a direction to flow, even if the project ever becomes real?" said Mohan Lal Jumba of Lal Singh Basti. "It is perhaps the first sewerage project of the world where pipe have been laid before working out disposal."
"It will be the only sewerage project with 2.5-foot-diameter pipes joining a 16-year-old network of 8-inch-diameter conduits," said farmer Jagdev Singh. "The irony is that water doesn't miss the gaps." The administration first planned to dispose of sewage at Sanjay Toba and now it wants to do it at Canal Colony. As of now, there is no sewerage and no disposal. The department concerned pumps water into Amapura Basti Toba as stopgap arrangement.
Not only the technical flaws have irritated residents but also they have suffered on account of frequent collapse of the system, which accumulates sewage water on the streets. The damaged roads are yet to repaired. "Many shopkeepers have closed business after the sewerage board dug up the roads (to make pits to lay the sewer lines)," said Khem Singh Makkar, municipal councillor of ward 38. "Traders who have stayed continue to suffer. Rickshaws and ambulance don't enter our streets because of the poor condition of the roads."
No only in Lal Singh Basati but also in all the localities of wards 31 and 38, the conditions are bad, since the sewerage project has started off. Dwellers have to live with bumpy roads. "Everyday people fall off vehicles on the rough roads and get injured. The surface is more dangerous on any rainy day," said Veerpal Kaur, a housewife. "Wind sweeps the construction sand piled on the streets into our homes. You cannot leave your clothes out to dry, because the air is thick with dust."
Reporting to bureaucrats, political leaders and the media has failed to solve the problem. As last resort, people have moved the court. On August 17, the people of Lal Singh Basti filed a case against the administration in Bathinda court. "We want the court to punish the officials concerned for their negligence," said Ram Avtar, a shopkeeper. "They should explain the haste in laying the sewer pipes without planning for disposal."
"I do not think the administration can make the ill-designed system functional," said Som Lal, a businessman. "Even if they make a disposal point at Canal Colony, how will they lead the water there?" "Canal Colony is populated densely," said Jagdev Lal, a senior citizen. "An Adarsh School is also over there. There is no clarity of where the water will go from the proposed disposal site."
"It seems either MC and sewerage board do not listen to political leaders or politicians are least interested in solving our problems," said Nand Lal of Lal Singh Basti. "Even anyone who has never gone to school can spot the gaps in the project. What more evidence do the authorities need to order action against the officials responsible."
"They (administration officials) started the project without planning last year because of the assembly elections," said local Congress leader Harmander Singh Jassi, a former minister. "They wanted to please their political bosses. They didn't look at feasibility. It was all to create an illusion of development, with no concern as to where it will lead. It ended in failure, and people suffer the consequences every day."