Dwaipayan

From a recent study of the Guwahati Jal Board’s official website, what is fathomable is that most of the existing water supply plants have already outlived their intended utilities and, as such, they need their immediate replacement. But the authorities concerned were allegedly hemming and hawing to do so.

One single but most crucial issue that immensely influences our day-to-day life is water because it is our life. We need water for life just as food does. We can survive without food at best supposedly for a month, but we cannot survive without water for long. It is also required for many other purposes such as sanitation, irrigation, to mention a few, in our day life. Civilization thrives around a region where water supply is steady and regular. So it is as plain as a pikestaff that water plays a very significant role in our life.

But most countries in the world are currently suffering from the acute crisis of safe drinking water. In India too, it is really frustrating that even after the long 75 years of the country’s independence, drinking water still continues to be one of the biggest crises with close to 70% of the country’s citizens, as per a survey, having no access to piped drinking water, though the civic authorities’ could have managed to harness and preserve water from rainfall or make its judicious and frugal use. Some parts of Chennai were faced with acute water shortages way back in 2019 when all the four reservoirs ran dry after the onset of the delayed monsoon. The resultant crisis could have well been surmounted had it been judiciously and meticulously utilized when it was known that there was mounting pressure of an increasing population in Chennai as in other cities.

What must have taken one by surprise is how a country which can send Chandrayaan for lunar exploration could have come a cropper in tiding over the brewing water crisis. If the situation is further allowed to drift without seriously attempting to develop ways to address the growing crisis, the problem is only likely to aggravate with a growth of population and indiscriminate extraction of surface water making water tables fall sharply in most cities in the country. Depressingly, what is literally happening is that Indian cities are growing at a faster pace than the civic authorities could provide access to safe water to the people, in water-scarce and water-starved urban zones in particular, a phenomenon that must be looked into. It has been reported that in urban areas, 50 million people in as many as 15 cities have no access to safe, affordable water.

Look at Guwahati. Nestling on the edge of the mighty Brahmaputra flowing majestically along its entire stretch, the city, until before the shifting of the State capital to Dispur from Shillong in 1971, had abundance of water resources with innumerable marshy and water bodies almost all around it. But the city started facing acute scarcity of pure drinking water supply since the last two decades or so. A growing population and large-scale exodus to Guwahati from various parts of Assam and the north-eastern region over the past two decades, for higher education, better employment opportunities and relatively improved healthcare facilities, as well as the rapid haphazard growth of the city, have unsurprisingly served only to take a heavy toll on the existing limited civic amenities in the city. Resultantly, shortage of drinking water, water-logging, traffic snarls, flash floods, encroachment of pavements have snowballed into major problems in the city.

With water turning out to be an elusive commodity, the bounden duty of the civic authorities is to put in place a judicious and economic water use mechanism. It is a matter of concern that they have been unable to provide at least 40% of Guwahati’s taxpayers access to safe, clean drinking water despite the Brahmaputra flowing through the State. From a recent study of the Guwahati Jal Board’s official website, what is fathomable is that most of the existing water supply plants have already outlived their intended utilities and, as such, they need their immediate replacement. But the authorities concerned were allegedly hemming and hawing to do so. Although currently, over 30% of the city-dwellers have access to piped water, yet the supply is reportedly almost unsteady and its quality is poor with seeping of polluting groundwater during flooding in particular, through worn-out, broken, old and aging distribution pipes.

As a significant section of the Guwahatians has no access to piped water, they have to bank on their own bore-wells. But in the past few years in many localities of the city, such as Christian Basti, parts of Anil Nagar, Nabin Nagar, Ulubari, Lachit Nagar, etc., to name a few, the bore-wells have dried up with the abnormal rise in the residential and commercial buildings around. The consequent shortage of drinking water has, therefore, compelled the residents to purchase water delivered by private tankers at exorbitant prices. But nobody is sure about if it is fluoride- and arsenic-free water which is known to cause cancer. Excessive fluoride in water can result in dental fluoride. It is reported that toxic substances like fluoride and arsenic contents are present in the groundwater pumped out by residents in some localities of the city.

What must cause one concern is a survey report conducted a few years ago by an organization called Antodaya, which found after 120 water samples collected in different parts of the city that about 20 were fluoride-contaminated. Panjabari, to exemplify, is a locality that was identified as heavily fluoride-contaminated. The situation has further worsened by the existent poor drainage system and inadequate sanitation facilities that have also contributed to groundwater contamination and exposed the inhabitants in Guwahati to a number of water-borne diseases.

In spite of a major chunk of its residents risking their lives by consuming contaminated water year after year, some politicians who are contesting for the East Guwahati seat, far from promising to address the water contamination issue on getting elected, rather skirted to make it a major poll plank during their recent tenacious campaigns for the seat.

Yet another major irritant is groundwater depletion. A study undertaken by the Centre for Science and Environment discovers that 48% of India’s urban water supply comes from groundwater. It also reveals that in seven of the country’s 10 most populous cities, groundwater levels have dropped significantly over the past two decades. In Guwahati, the real estate boom for the past two decades has hastened groundwater depletion process.

Given the seriousness of the emerging situation, the State Government should be sensitive to the legitimate needs of the citizens and pop up with some innovative approach to resolve the brewing crisis. As the Brahmaputra is flowing along the northern part of Guwahati, introducing an effective water supply system is the crying need.