LATUR: The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) minimum requirement of water per person per day is 20 litres. By that norm, Latur’s water crisis can only be characterised as one of Saharan proportions. The Marathwada town is rationing its water at the rate of 200 litres per family every eight days: or 50 litres per family or 6.25 litres per person.
Such is the desperation that the administration has been digging bore wells frantically — and coming up with zilch. A recent survey by the office of the District Medical Officer (health) found that of the 22 newly dug bore wells in town, 15 went dry even before they were put to use, and all but one of the rest yielded only a non-potable pale-yellow trickle.
Some 300 private entities, have entered the digging frenzy on dry lakebeds around the town, their trucks jamming roads leading to town. Latur needs 20 million litres per day (MLD), 40 per cent of it for drinking purposes. The Municipal Corporation operates 150 bore wells and 150 hand pumps, compared to the 2,000 private bore wells that pockmark the landscape.
The Corporation makes feeble protests, warning citizens that the water may not be potable. There are ads in the newspapers and hoardings on the streets trying to dissuade citizens from rushing to private tankers.
Dr Mahadev Suryavanshi said cases of diarrhea and jaundice coming to his practice had increased over the months. “Apart from general dehydration-related issues, I treat patients with calculus, viral hepatitis, typhoid and throat infections which are all related to consumption of contaminated water,” he said.
District Medical Officer (health) Mahesh Patil acknowledged the threat posed by contaminated water: “Water supplied by the Corporation’s tankers is first treated at the water treatment plant at Harungal. But we cannot guarantee the quality of water supplied by private water tankers.”
The administration has decided to open 18 chlorination points around town where private tankers can register and chlorinate their water before supplying it. But what of the packaged water being sold?
The situation is clearly an emergency. In a backhanded acknowledgement of this, Collector Pandurang Pole, in his capacity of District Magistrate, has invoked a law more commonly bandied about during elections and rioting: Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The law against unlawful assembly has been clamped around the six major filling points where people queue for their weekly supply.
Pole said it’s a preventive measure, applicable only to the filling stations. But why would a water queue need policing under Section 144?
“Section 144 is a broad section that is used not only for a communal riot,” said the Collector. “It can be used in any emergency situation.”
But then, the administration insists there has been no trouble due to the water crisis. In the first week of March, a 55-year-old woman, Natabai Tenkale, collapsed and died while carrying back a pot of water after a vigil of several hours. Her mother Gawlanbai Kamble, 80, too collapsed and died at the daughter’s funeral. Residents report other water deaths in recent weeks.
But Pole said none of the deaths could be attributed to the water crisis. “Someone is just raking up these issues,” he said. One of them could be the state’s former Chief Minister Sharad Pawar, who has said he has not seen anything like the Latur crisis in 50 years.
And then the town is awaiting the annual influx of students who come to be prepped for the IIT-JEE in the town’s famed tutorial institutes. The IIT-JEE pilgrims are a major source of revenue to the town, one which it is anxious not to lose.
Nitin Ashok Rao Patwari, who runs a tutorial called Reliance Latur Pattern, said he hosts 800 students annually and buys 10 water tankerloads every day. He had never had to do that until two years ago. “Since Diwali, all our captive borewells have gone dry. Then we began to procure water by our our water tanker, paying Rs 100 per 6000 litres. Now, we pay Rs 400. Those who do not have their own tankers pay up to `1200,” says Patwari. His tutorial spends Rs 5500 per day on procuring water alone. (Concluded)