Water hyacinth cloaks the pond on Sunday. (Gautam Dey)
Even reservoirs have an unpredictable destiny. Even a kingly name and a revered past can lead to a muddy present.
Raja Talab in the heart of Jharia town has a regal lineage — the 100m-diametre reservoir was built in the early 20th century by Jharia’s royal family — and its water was once considered pure enough to drink everyday and offer to the sun god during Chhath.
Now, you need to press your nose when you arrive close to the old fort, Purana Rajbari, of the Jharia estate where the pond stands.
The 21st century has not been kind to Raja Talab. People’s representatives, Dhanbad Municipal Corporation authorities, district administration, sundry contractors and residents have let it down badly.
The last study was done in 2007 by ISM-Dhanbad’s department of environmental science engineering under Impact of Coal Mining in Jharia Town. The study found its water was alkaline with a pH of 8.11, while cations and anions were greater than the limit prescribed by the WHO.
But washing of clothes, bathing and using the place as a sewer outlet continued unabated. Nearby cowsheds contributed to the muck.
Right now, there’s hardly any water. The area reeks of smelly silt and is cloaked by water hyacinth.
People in power made the right noises, with varying results. In 2001-02, Baccha Singh, the first state’s urban development minister, announced Rs 1 crore for the pond’s development. The money never came.
Five years ago, however, Jharia MLA Kunti Singh constructed stairs to the pond from his local area development funds.
Two years ago, Dhanbad Municipal Corporation decided to actually do something for the pond that was once the cynosure of all eyes. Armed with a total corpus of Rs 48 lakh, it awarded two contractors — Sujit Construction Company and one Lalit Mohan Singh — separate jobs worth Rs 24 lakh each to restore the pond to its original glory.
Sujit Construction was supposed to undertake boulder pitching to strengthen the embankment and avoid seepage, fence the pond with barbed wire to ward off cattle, install streetlights, construct a PCC road ringing the reservoir and desilt the pond.
Lalit Mohan Singh was supposed to construct a network of drains around the pond to prevent inflow of dirty water.
Sujit Construction installed 22 streetlights and constructed 500m of the road, taking more than two years. It finally left work midway, citing that the equipment used for desilting got stuck in the mud due inflow of water from the town’s sewerage.
Singh’s company made the drains well. Now, sewerage water does not fall into the pond.
But the timing was wrong, said Anup Sao, councillor of ward No. 37. “The drainage work should have been sanctioned first for smooth desilting,” he reasoned. “I doubt the competence of Dhanbad Municipal Corporation engineers.”
Sao sought information on all schemes sanctioned for Raja Talab between 2000 and 2010 from the district administration. “I didn’t get satisfactory information even after my second appeal. It smacks of deep corruption,” he alleged.
Even the lights were switched on only once more than two years ago, Sao added.
Dhanbad Municipal Corporation chief executive officer Awdhesh Kumar Pandey said only Rs 6 lakh had been given to the contractor (Sujit Construction) for installation of lights and they were holding back the rest due to poor quality of work. “We issued them a notice,” he said.
Ranjit Singh, a scion of the Jharia royal family remembered how his ancestors Raja Durga Prasad Singh and Raja Shiva Prasad Singh bathed in Raja Talab before entering Rajbari temple. The young man may have to wait for long for this privilege.