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Under dry tap festers familiar disease of govt & civic apathy

June 9: Nine Siliguri municipal wards have gone without a drop of tap water since May 29, making today the eleventh day when people had to queue up near wells or crowd at public taps in neighbouring areas.

Metro spoke to municipal officials, the North Bengal development minister and officials, and engineers of the public health engineering (PHE) department to find out how a water crisis could continue for so many days in north Bengal’s most important town, inconveniencing over 50,000 people.

Some key problems have emerged.

First, there is no overhead reservoir to supply water to the nine wards, which puts a huge load on the pumps installed at the Pareshnagar pump station.

Second, the municipality did not send tankers to any of the localities as these were not maintained properly. North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb and SMC officials said they feared that if the tankers were contaminated and people drank the water, there could be a wave of diseases to deal with.

Third, all the three pumps did not break down at the same time. One of the three pumps went defunct in early 2014, according to PHE sources, but for some inexplicable reason, a replacement was not sought by the department that is tasked to maintain the three pumps.

Reservoir reason

The Pareshnagar pumps draw water from a reservoir 5km away at Jhankar More. The wards need at least two reservoirs — one is under construction and work on the other has not started because of a local land problem.

Minister Deb, who held a meeting with PHE officials today to discuss the water crisis, blamed the former Congress and Left municipal corporation for not making the overhead reservoirs.

“Water in these nine wards is directly supplied after being drawn from a reservoir at Jhankar More. This is why it puts excess load on the pumps and these break down frequently,” he said.

“Unless the reservoirs are built, the pressure on these pumps cannot be eased. It is the former civic boards, run by the Left and the Congress, which are responsible for this situation.”

The Pareshnagar pump house was built in 2008.

Two pumps used to draw water and one pump was kept as a standby. Between 2008 and now, the PHE department, tasked to maintain the pumps, has bought six machines just for this pump house, each costing around Rs 10 lakh, according to the department’s sources.

No PHE department official was ready to give the date when the first of the three pumps broke down this year, but said that one pump conked out early in 2014.

The department continued to use the other two pumps, and both stopped functioning this month, but on separate days.

The last working pump broke down on May 29, cutting off water supply to the nine wards completely.

A PHE engineer said today: “Usually, the life span of these pumps is around 10 years but because of the heavy load of drawing water from a reservoir at a distance, the pumps collapse within a couple of years of their installation.”

Deb today said a new pump had arrived in Siliguri from Ahmedabad yesterday. When one of the correspondents went to the Pareshnagar pump house in the afternoon, an old pump was being mended. There was no new pump in sight.

Another pump will arrive soon, Deb today told the meeting with PHE officials.

Both Deb and SMC commissioner S.W. Bhutia said water supply should be restored in two days.

A PHE official, who was present at the meeting with Deb, said: “The pumps started malfunctioning one after another and we bought new pumps in 2010 and 2012. Even after 2012, there were instances when the pumps stopped working. Somehow, we continued by repairing one pump and running another.”

Asked why no pump was ordered earlier, when the pumps were conking out “one after another”, he said: “We cannot comment on why the new pumps were not bought earlier.”

Tanker question

The SMC has 10 tankers, but these supposedly are not well-maintained so supplying drinking water using these could have led to a spurt in water-borne diseases, civic sources said.

People in these nine wards were forced to queue up near wells and taps in neighbouring wards that had water for days and drag heavy plastic cans and buckets home several times daily.

Deb was asked today why none of the tankers was used. “We cannot risk the life of people. If the water in even one tanker was contaminated, it would have led to a spurt in ailments,” said the minister, in whose Assembly seat these wards fall.

Some SMC officials said the tankers were not adequate to cater to a 50,000-plus population. They, too, mentioned the fear of contamination because the tankers were not clean.

An SMC official, who did not want to be named, said: “Tankers that are used for transporting drinking water must undergo pest control and other hygiene checks daily. That was never done.”

An SMC official was asked if the civic authority tried to requisition water tankers from the army or the BSF. He replied in the negative.

People’s plight

Prashanta Pal, a shop owner in Pareshnagar who lives half a kilometre from the pump house, said his home had no water supply “for the past 10-11 days”. “Every day, I carry two 5-litre cans to Punjabipara, which is a kilometre away, in the morning and evening to bring drinking water for my family. We don’t know what the civic authorities are doing.”

Rekha Palchoudhury, who runs an eatery in Bhanunagar, said she was dependent on water drawn from a well. “I cannot afford to walk to the next ward to get drinking water as I have to stay in the shop. We are drawing water from a well nearby. For the children, we boil the water,” she said.

The people may not get respite from the ordeal soon.

Deb claimed one pump has arrived yesterday evening. PHE sources said the department was waiting for technical experts of the private company that had supplied the machine to arrive from Ahmedabad. They would install the pump. After that there would be a dry run, and then supply would resume.

A PHE official said: “There was no delay in ordering the pump but it would take time for a machine to arrive here from Ahmedabad by road. We are waiting for engineers of the company now to come here and install the pump. They are likely to reach by tomorrow.”

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Ward: 36

  • Localities: Santinagar, Niranjannagar
  • No water since May 29

Ward 37

  • Locality: Chayanpara
  • No water since May 29

Ward 38

  • Localities: Purba Vivekanandapally, New Palpara
  • No water since May 29

Ward 39

  • Locality: Shivrampally
  • No water since May 29

Ward 40

  • Localities: Haiderpara, Gourangapally
  • No water since May 29

Ward 41

  • Localities: Baikunthapally, Jyotinagar
  • No water since May 29

Ward 42

  • Localities: Limbubusty, Prakashnagar
  • No water since May 29

Ward 43

  • Localities: Bhanunagar, Monpolebusty
  • No water since May 29

Ward 44

  • Localities: Pareshnagar, Janata Nagar, Laxmi Colony
  • No water since May 29