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‘Water Mafia’ Takes Root in City as Government on Back-Seat

Drinking Water Crisis
Representative Photo

Guwahati: Rajasthan is one of the driest states in the country, with average annual rainfall barely crossing 100 mm resulting into low water level. Despite such low level of precipitation and absence of perennial river in the state, Chambal river being an exception, major cities like Jaipur, Ajmer and Kota have a robust water supply system, with large parts of the state capital even receiving it for 24-hours, round-the-clock.
Contrast this with Guwahati, on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra — one of the widest rivers in the whole of Asia — whose residents are compelled to purchase water for their daily needs.
Only around 30 percent of the city’s 12 lakh people have access to piped drinking water. Four water supply projects are being implemented but it not known yet when these projects will see the light of completion.
In a reply to question in the state Assembly in September 2017, the then Minister in charge Guwahati Development Department, Himanta Biswa Sarma had stated that the “South West Guwahati Water Supply Project”, covering an extensive area which include the populous Bharalumukh (part), Santipur, Kalipur, Maligaon, Gotanagar, Pandu, Adabari,SankarnagarJalukbari, Tetelia,Devkota Nagar,Boragaon, Sundarbari, Gorchuk, Katahbari, Manpara, Datalpara, Ganeshpara, Dhirenpara, FatasilAmbari, Gopinath Bordoloi Nagar area, among others, was likely to be operational by March this year. Till now, the project seems to be a far cry from completion.
The Rs 389-crore project, which was started in March 2009, is being carried out under the Centre’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and has already missed the deadline several times in the past six years.
There are three other projects being implemented for the rest of the city. They are namely, the South Central Guwahati Water Supply Project, the South East Guwahati Water Supply Project and the North Guwahati Water Supply Project. Needless to say, all three have met the same fate as the South West Guwahati Water Supply Project. While the North and South Central region projects are funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the South East Guwahati Water Supply Project is being funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The cumulative costs of all the four projects would go beyond Rs 2,000 crore, and despite the availability of funds for the same, one wonders why as to what is the reason behind such delays.
The blame for the delay, according to reports, should primarily fall on the contractors who have managed to get paid even for their shoddy work, obviously with blessings from someone influential in the corridors of power.
With the government agencies taking a backseat in providing basic amenities like water, it is the unscrupulous elements who have taken to making money by selling water drawn from deep boring. As per reports, a “water mafia” has been operating from the Beltola area of the city, drawing groundwater to the tune of nearly a lakh-liter per day while the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) and other law-enforcement agencies turning a blind eye to this. The mini water tankers deployed by these people sell 750 liters of water for Rs 200.
Such activities of the water mafia have further depleted the already stressed groundwater level in these areas. Tulika Sharma, a housewife and a resident of Beltola, allege that ever since her neighbors started selling water to tankers, the water level in the locality went down to never-before level. She alleges that people from the government do make visits to the house of those selling water but don’t take any action on them.
Dilip Kakoti, a resident of Lachit Nagar, who has been facing drinking-water shortage for many years, said, “We have only been hearing promises and agendas and schemes of the government. Be it the present BJP or the past Congress, all have only shown us dreams. Every time there is a minimal repair to our roads in the Lachit Nagar area, but after a few days, new pipes are being laid there which further dilapidates the present conditions. The government is only laying pipes for the last 10 years or more, not a drop of water has reached us yet.”
Echoing on the same note, Kalyani Buzarbaruah added, “Buying drinking-water has become a daily affair. The condition has turned so worse that since the past many years, it has been a monthly routine for our family to prepare a separate budget for water. Indeed, the water crisis has been a point of interest for many as it is a luring business and if the condition remains the same, it will be the most profitable one.”
It now remains to be seen that whether the laid-back attitude of the state officials leads to further consolidation of a “water mafia” in Guwahati, or whether the government will step up to the occasion and fulfill the promises it had made just before the 2016 Assembly Elections in its manifesto.