AGRA: More than a quarter century after a grim water tragedy that took more than a score of lives and hospitalised around 150 people, the supply of drinking water in the city of the Taj Mahal has neither improved qualitatively nor in terms of quantity, triggering protests in different parts of the city on a daily basis.
Recalling the tragedy Congress leader Tajendra Rajaura, said: "Twenty-six years ago this day, it was the darkest hour when polluted water supply killed 21 in the Khateek Pada locality."
Several voluntary groups on Tuesday observed Water Tragedy Day. Residents of Khateek Paada and Mandi Sayeed Khan in the heart of the city lamented the lack of drinking water and the continuing apathy towards their woes.
The then Congress government in UP had made several promises to the victims' families these have not yet been fulfilled, residents of the areas said. They said the then UP Governor, Moti Lal Vora, had visited these mohallas and promised financial help and a job to each family that lost a breadwinner. The foundation stone of a barrage on the Yamuna was hastily laid but the project is still hanging fire.
The water woes of the city continue to pain locals, even though there are two waterworks and a 165-km-long pipeline to bring the water of the Ganga river. "The chief problems are mismanagement and high level of corruption," said a corporator, not wanting to be named. The waterworks officials plead helplessness as there is no water in the river Yamuna, which is the lifeline of the city.
In the name of water, what is being filtered and processed is drain water, waste and industrial effluents from upstream cities in Haryana and Delhi. "For all practical purposes the Yamuna is dead downstream of the Okhla barrage (in Delhi), " according to environmentalist Dr Devashish Bhattacharya.
The Rs 4,000 crore Ganga Jal pipeline project with Japanese aid has become operational, bringing 150 cusecs of water to the Sikandra Water Works but the "ancient" rusted and choked pipeline network in the city keeps bursting every few days resulting in suspension of water supplies.
"Another bottleneck is that the Jeoni Mandi Water Works, is still to be connected with the Ganga Jal pipeline. This Waterworks takes care of the needs of more than half the city and is dependent on Yamuna for raw water. Since the Yamuna is dry, there is a supply problem," an official explained.
Perhaps they are waiting for another major tragedy before they wake up. Good quality air and water do not seem to be priority for state government. At a meeting on Tuesday morning the River Connect Campaign volunteers demanded desilting of Yamuna, cleaning of community ponds and streams, as also storage tanks of the Agra Water Works.
With the day temperature crossing 44 degrees Celsius the increasing demand for water has triggered protests and marches across the city.
People in several areas have been protesting with buckets and matkas, but the authorities express helplessness citing infrastructural inadequacies. For more than a fortnight people in many areas, especially Trans-Yamuna colonies have been facing an acute water shortage and water is being supplied through tankers. A large number of people have left Kalindi Vihar and other colonies due to the water crisis.
The state government had announced two years ago that it would construct a barrage downstream of the Taj Mahal. But work is still to begin on dredging and cleaning the river bed. The canal system and the community ponds have not been cleaned or desilted.
"The problem really is of storing and managing the water resources that are available, but they have no such plans, though there is so much talk of transforming Agra into a Smart city," River Connect Campaign member Shravan Kumar Singh said.
While politicians and government officials continue to offer all kinds of excuses and promise early relief, it is the voluntary groups and Good Samaritans that have come forward to put up a chain of water huts for the pedestrians. The water woes of the pedestrians and two- and three-wheeler passengers, were being effectively addressed, thanks to a "Pyaoo" water hut-network run by a voluntary group Sri Nath ji Nishulk Jal Sewa that has been active since 1987.