KOLKATA: Roshni Tamang and her sister Lalita of Kalimpong’s Seokbhir Khani village have to make three early morning uphill trek of two km each every day to fetch water from a local stream (known as ‘dhara’ in Nepali) so that their family of seven get enough water for drinking and cooking food throughout the day.
Roshni’s family is not alone. Almost all residents of the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts of West Bengal have some story to share regarding their ordeal over the water crisis. While Kalimpong has several streams to depend on for drinking water, Darjeeling has to depend on Sinchel Lake and Lower City Lake for its water and much of its distribution is controlled by the ‘water mafia’ that allegedly has strong links with the municipality authorities.
Water is sold at high prices in both the districts and crisis is acute from March to May. “Water prices in Darjeeling go up to Rs 2,000 per 6,000 litres in peak summer,” said local resident Amit Chhetri. In Kalimpong, the rate is Rs 300 for 1,000 litres.
Political observer Upendra Pradhan says a major reason behind the crisis in Darjeeling is unplanned urban growth. “British established Darjeeling for 20,000 people. Now, the 11 square km town has over 1,32,000 residents which means a density of 12,000 people/sq km, which is more than that of Delhi,” he said.
“Despite receiving one of the highest rains in India, much of the water is wasted as the catchment areas have been turned into urban sprawl. Added to that, the distribution pipes are old and worn out. There is no political will or planning to rejuvenate the water supply system,” he added.
On the other hand, Kalimpong residents got a rude shock in 2008 when several water points were ‘privatised. “Wherever there were water points, landlords erected boundaries, prevented people from entering it and privatised it. They piped the water to villages within 2 km radius and charge Rs 200 every month for each connection. They give water twice a day for half-an-hour each,” said Priyanka Rai.
Owing to the crisis, Kalimpong municipality gives water every alternate day for 45 minutes which is not sufficient and thus helps the water controllers to make money.
However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in her recent visit to the hills, asked the local authorities to focus more on issues regarding water crisis.