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Water theft spurs health risk alarm

The steel city is staring at a scourge of water-borne diseases. And for once, the weather is not to blame.

Freeloaders — mostly from urban slums in Sonari and Kadma — are clumsily tapping Jusco’s pipelines to dodge water tax and, in the process, exposing more than 500,000 legal consumers to serious health risks such as jaundice and diarrhoea.

The utility company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Steel, supplies water across the city through an intricate network of pipelines that run for over 600km. Untrained plumbers, often under political patronage, puncture these pipelines after sundown and channel water illegally to households.

More unhappily, a majority of these plumbing jobs are done in unhygienic surroundings like near cowsheds and garages. East Singhbhum civil surgeon Jagat Bhusan Prasad pointed out that continuous contamination of drinking water could lead to serious ailments.

Jusco officials agreed. “Pilferage is done at night and in a haste by untrained people. More often than not, they leave behind holes in the pipelines, which allows dung and sewage to seep in. This contaminated water then reaches our consumer households through taps. It is like an open invitation to diseases when you drink such water,” a Jusco official was candid on the condition of anonymity.

Company spokesperson Rajesh Rajan confirmed pilferage and said they had already lodged FIRs with Kadma and Sonari police.

“Since Saturday, we have also launched a drive to plug all illegal connections. We expected law and order problem and, hence, sought police help. As many as six cases of tapping were detected in Shastrinagar, five in Jhabri Basti and one in Gwala Basti. Unauthorised customers were benefiting, but now all gaps have been plugged,” he added.

JVM leader and local MP Ajoy Kumar’s representative Sashi Bhusan admitted that they had indulged in illegal tapping after repeated pleas to Jusco for connections fell on deaf ears. BJP leader Sarayu Roy claimed they had informed civic officials that residents were willing to pay for water supply, but received tepid response, which forced them to take up other means.

Rajan said they were unable to supply water to some areas demarcated as unauthorised in a 2010 Jharkhand High Court directive,” he said. However, a senior official maintained that they did supply to residents even in urban slums if the latter could produce valid holding records and land deeds.

Rajan said Jusco’s water treatment facilities maintain quality standards set by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) under the central department of science and technology.

The water supplied has a total dissolved solids (a measure of combined content of inorganic and organic substances in a liquid) count of less than 150, while the world standard is 500. The turbidity (the haziness in a fluid caused by suspended solids that are generally invisible to the naked eye) is about 1 ntu (nephelometric turbidity unit). This quality of water sees steady depreciation because of illegal tapping, said officials.

Rajan said they had opened a 24x7 helpline — 0657-6646000 — and were requesting citizens to lodge complaints against pilferage.

“It is impossible for us alone to keep vigil on our extensive network. So, we want our customers to come forward and report tapping. Pilferage reduces water pressure for individual customers and also leads to wastage. We should join hands against this illegal activity,” he added.

What more can be done to stop water pilferage?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com