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Of perennial water crisis and 2 projects in moribund state

By Subodh Sharma
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With a view to resolving the perennial water crisis of Guwahati, the Government of Assam mooted an ambitious water supply scheme to ensure 24x7 water supply to all the households under the GMDA administrative area.

A capital investment of Rs 1344.9 million and another investment of Rs 35,524 million JPY have been earmarked for this scheme with an aggregate installed capacity of 469.1 million litres per day, which would be adequate to supply 24x7 potable water supply to over 30 lakh persons in conformity with a standard of 135/litres a day, per person.

The first project earmarked for water distribution for southwest Guwahati, started in 2009, and the other two, in south central Guwahati and southeast Guwahati, kicked off in the years 2011 and 2013 respectively. Yet, even after eight years of its inception none of these projects has become operational to assure the citizens, biting the bullets for all these years to get an ultimate relief.

Of course, the work of laying of pipelines on the city streets and avenues (leaving the damaged roads, as it were, to the discomfort of citizens) still enkindles hopes although the State government is yet to announce officially the progress reports of the aforesaid schemes.

In such a situation, the citizens� bodies jointly held a seminar last month where experts, professionals and researchers enlightened the citizens about the realities of the ambitious plan. It could be learnt that the project undertaken by M/s Gammon India for the southwest Guwahati water supply has been inordinately delayed and the progress of the other two projects is following the same path of uncertainty.

It would be worth mentioning that the so-called professional consultants, namely Tahal and Louis Berger, were appointed by the erstwhile State government to prepare the detailed reports as well as to monitor the progress of the projects by paying huge sums of money. Yet, these consultants have miserably failed to advise the authorities in the right direction, nor could the nodal agency, the GMDA, extract the work from the consultants.

Prior to making a DPR for such projects, a field survey of the project location, pipeline routes and acquisition of land for the project are some of the prerequisites that need to be taken into account. Then, a detailed project planning is drafted by using scientific project management tools like PERT/CPM to ascertain the pragmatic time of completion of such projects. Even the cash flow required for the smooth execution as well as the manpower planning need to be quantified meticulously. Moreover, all the components of works involved with supply projects need to be identified in the form of work breakdown structure.

However, the consultant failed to adopt such modern techniques of project management in case of the southwest Guwahati project, but for which land acquisition problems, problems related to right of way for pipelines, omission of some essential components of works from the original DPR, etc, took place. Thus, delay and a cost escalation have become inevitable. Yet, the accountability of such delays and cost escalation would hardly be fixed for such serious lapses. Little do the citizens know about the state of affairs of the other two projects, nor do we know whether the government has taken a course correction path in project management after its already gathered experiences of the southwest water supply schemes.

The capital for the projects was provided by the Centre as well as by international financial institutions like the Asian Bank and JICA, on the condition that the revenue to be earned by way of commercialising the water supply service to the citizens must be adequate for commercial self-sustainability of the projects. Therefore, once the projects are capitalised, citizens will have to pay for all the cost escalations and mismanagement. Yet, people do not have the choice of raising the question on accountability for delay and mismanagement when the projects are under execution.

Surprisingly, even when none of the projects has become functional, the Jal Board has been formed by the government well ahead of time, which itself would involve huge administrative costs in the name of salaries and facilities to the Chairman and its august members, adding to the financial woes of the helpless citizens. The present system of paying a nominal tax to the GMCH for water supply is likely to be discontinued in the course of time. Moreover, it is unknown whether free water at public places would be provided to needy people who could ill-afford to avail themselves of the service by paying service connection fees.

The serious matter of arsenic and lead contamination of water to be pumped for public use, too, was raised by researchers present in the seminar. Apparently, due to the lack of any scientific solid waste management system and sewerage treatment system in the city, the mighty river had to be at the receiving end of all toxic chemicals generated in the city. Arsenic and fluoride have already been found in deep underground water sources, and the industrial waste, too, gets its ultimate disposal route in the river. The presence of toxic chemical in the lean season invariably rose to a level detrimental to human health. On the top of it, the matter of Brahmaputra water becoming excessively turbid in recent times has added another dimension to it. Definitely, the filtration units of the projects, too, will have to be further equipped at additional project cost. It�s time for the citizens to cogitate upon these serious matters.

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Of perennial water crisis and 2 projects in moribund state

With a view to resolving the perennial water crisis of Guwahati, the Government of Assam mooted an ambitious water supply scheme to ensure 24x7 water supply to all the households under the GMDA administrative area.

A capital investment of Rs 1344.9 million and another investment of Rs 35,524 million JPY have been earmarked for this scheme with an aggregate installed capacity of 469.1 million litres per day, which would be adequate to supply 24x7 potable water supply to over 30 lakh persons in conformity with a standard of 135/litres a day, per person.

The first project earmarked for water distribution for southwest Guwahati, started in 2009, and the other two, in south central Guwahati and southeast Guwahati, kicked off in the years 2011 and 2013 respectively. Yet, even after eight years of its inception none of these projects has become operational to assure the citizens, biting the bullets for all these years to get an ultimate relief.

Of course, the work of laying of pipelines on the city streets and avenues (leaving the damaged roads, as it were, to the discomfort of citizens) still enkindles hopes although the State government is yet to announce officially the progress reports of the aforesaid schemes.

In such a situation, the citizens� bodies jointly held a seminar last month where experts, professionals and researchers enlightened the citizens about the realities of the ambitious plan. It could be learnt that the project undertaken by M/s Gammon India for the southwest Guwahati water supply has been inordinately delayed and the progress of the other two projects is following the same path of uncertainty.

It would be worth mentioning that the so-called professional consultants, namely Tahal and Louis Berger, were appointed by the erstwhile State government to prepare the detailed reports as well as to monitor the progress of the projects by paying huge sums of money. Yet, these consultants have miserably failed to advise the authorities in the right direction, nor could the nodal agency, the GMDA, extract the work from the consultants.

Prior to making a DPR for such projects, a field survey of the project location, pipeline routes and acquisition of land for the project are some of the prerequisites that need to be taken into account. Then, a detailed project planning is drafted by using scientific project management tools like PERT/CPM to ascertain the pragmatic time of completion of such projects. Even the cash flow required for the smooth execution as well as the manpower planning need to be quantified meticulously. Moreover, all the components of works involved with supply projects need to be identified in the form of work breakdown structure.

However, the consultant failed to adopt such modern techniques of project management in case of the southwest Guwahati project, but for which land acquisition problems, problems related to right of way for pipelines, omission of some essential components of works from the original DPR, etc, took place. Thus, delay and a cost escalation have become inevitable. Yet, the accountability of such delays and cost escalation would hardly be fixed for such serious lapses. Little do the citizens know about the state of affairs of the other two projects, nor do we know whether the government has taken a course correction path in project management after its already gathered experiences of the southwest water supply schemes.

The capital for the projects was provided by the Centre as well as by international financial institutions like the Asian Bank and JICA, on the condition that the revenue to be earned by way of commercialising the water supply service to the citizens must be adequate for commercial self-sustainability of the projects. Therefore, once the projects are capitalised, citizens will have to pay for all the cost escalations and mismanagement. Yet, people do not have the choice of raising the question on accountability for delay and mismanagement when the projects are under execution.

Surprisingly, even when none of the projects has become functional, the Jal Board has been formed by the government well ahead of time, which itself would involve huge administrative costs in the name of salaries and facilities to the Chairman and its august members, adding to the financial woes of the helpless citizens. The present system of paying a nominal tax to the GMCH for water supply is likely to be discontinued in the course of time. Moreover, it is unknown whether free water at public places would be provided to needy people who could ill-afford to avail themselves of the service by paying service connection fees.

The serious matter of arsenic and lead contamination of water to be pumped for public use, too, was raised by researchers present in the seminar. Apparently, due to the lack of any scientific solid waste management system and sewerage treatment system in the city, the mighty river had to be at the receiving end of all toxic chemicals generated in the city. Arsenic and fluoride have already been found in deep underground water sources, and the industrial waste, too, gets its ultimate disposal route in the river. The presence of toxic chemical in the lean season invariably rose to a level detrimental to human health. On the top of it, the matter of Brahmaputra water becoming excessively turbid in recent times has added another dimension to it. Definitely, the filtration units of the projects, too, will have to be further equipped at additional project cost. It�s time for the citizens to cogitate upon these serious matters.