The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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At cross-purposes with water resources

Calcutta should do well to conserve its fast-depleting ground water resources instead of spending “injudiciously” on treating water from the Hooghly, according to a French expert who has studied water and sanitation issues in Indian metros extensively.

“Calcutta doesn’t have problems when it comes to water, it only has solutions. But unfortunately, it’s a victim of its ideal location, and poor management of high resources is the bane here,” observed Joel Ruet, director, Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), a French research institute based in New Delhi.

Ruet, whose critically-acclaimed book, The Water & Sanitation Scenario in Indian Cities: Resources and Management in Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, Mumbai, has been published by French Research Institutes in India, was in town to start work on his next project, ‘Sustainability of Calcutta through its infrastructure’.

The 30-year-old alumni from the Ecole des Mines, Paris, who has worked on Indian economy for five years, felt it was absolutely imperative for all the agencies to have a “common agenda” on the proper management and distribution of water in Calcutta.

“The 20 per cent ground water resources which the city has, is often denied to its people, since the focus is lopsided and various agencies work at cross-purposes. For instance, the Calcutta Metropolitan Water Supply Authority (CMWSA), which treats the Hooghly water for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to feed its wards, is not paid regularly for its services,” observed Ruet.

The French doctorate in economics was convinced that the “technocrat’s dream” of 100 per cent treated water “to use only 10 per cent for drinking purposes” will result in agencies like the CMWSA bleeding more. CSH, which will submit a report to the French ministry of research on its findings in Calcutta, felt the government should be convinced to run subsidy schemes to help boost ground water reserves, instead.

The need of the hour is to work together to recharge the aquifers, fast perishing from indiscriminate and unplanned urbanisation, according to the French research institute. “If Calcutta does not wake up to the problem now, things could drift towards a Cairo-like situation, where the water table has sunk over 200 metres,” said Ruet.

Rainwater-harvesting through roof-top collectors is one way to send water back to the ground quickly, while porous concrete and other penetrable materials used in public places can also contribute, he felt. “Besides, developers of highrises, which use ultra-powerful suction pumps, should be made to contribute towards setting up booster stations at the foot to ensure others in the vicinity are left with enough water.”

Habitat Center, a city-based NGO engaged in research and action planning on problems of human settlements, environment and socio-economic development, has expressed its keenness to work in tandem with the French agency. “We will hold a conference with CSH later this year and provide them with necessary local inputs,” said architect and city planner K.P. Bhattacharjee, executive director of Habitat Center.

“Given its perfect location, Calcutta should have done a lot better with its water management, certainly better than Chennai or Mumbai,” Ruet rued.

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