Nov. 1: Bimal Gurung has said the Balasun water project is a “failure” because the river is polluted and “people won’t be able to drink the water”.
The GTA chief last week proposed exploring the possibility of sourcing water from the Srikhola river, about 90km uphill from Darjeeling, instead.
The Balasun project is months away from being commissioned and has been in the pipeline since the 1990s. Gurung has not spelt out if he wants to shelve the project, which could mean a longer wait before the water problem in Darjeeling is sorted out.
Gurung said during an informal chat with the media last week: “The Balasun project is a failure as people won’t be able to drink the water. I have visited the spot at Balasun from where water will be pumped. The water is unhygienic.”
He said: “Garbage, night soil and other waste flow down the slopes into the Balasun water. How can people consume such dirt?”
Told about the filtration plant that had been set up at Sindhap in Darjeeling to purify the water, Gurung seemed unimpressed.
“The water is simply too dirty to be fit for human consumption,” he said.
Gurung said the GTA was exploring the possibility of bringing water from the Srikhola river near Rimbick.
“This could be a viable alternative as we can use gravity to bring water from Srikhola,” said Gurung. By gravity, Gurung meant that water could easily flow from an area which is higher than Darjeeling town. The pumping point of the Balasun project is downhill.
“The Srikhola water is clean. Since we will get Rs 600 crore from the Centre over the next three years, we can use the funds for the Srikhola project. It may take some time to work out the details of the project,” the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief said.
The Balasun project had been mooted in the early 1990s and was believed to be the solution to Darjeeling’s year-round water shortage.
Darjeeling town requires about 15-18 lakh gallons of water everyday but the municipality can supply about 7-8 lakh gallons.
The Balasun project has been envisaged to pump water for 16 hours a day to supply 2 million gallons of water to Darjeeling.
The foundation stone for the project was laid on February 19, 2006, but a part of the planned water pipeline fell on army land and the force would not agree to let that happen.
On October 9 this year, panchayat and public health engineering (PHE) minister Subrata Mukherjee said the army had given the nod to lay the pipeline.
The PHE department is supervising the project.
Asked about the quality of the Balasun water, senior officials of the PHE department said it was not possible for them to comment right now on the quality of the water.
“We are working on a trial basis and have commissioned some of the pipe networks to provide water in Darjeeling. As of now, our mechanical division is executing this. We cannot comment on the quality of water of the river now,” said Biswajit Patra, the superintending engineer of north Bengal, circle II of PHE, based in Siliguri.
He said the PHE department would follow every rule to ensure the supply of pure water from the Balasun to Darjeeling.
“We would like to make it clear that like any other drinking water scheme, the department would take up all possible measures and follow the laid down rules before providing water to consumers at the supply end. As it happens in each case, we will ensure that water provided to people is fit for drinking and meets the quality norms.”