Taj city's daily struggle for water

Last Updated: Wed, May 25, 2011 04:20 hrs

Agra, May 25 (IANS) The city of the Taj Mahal is becoming infamous for its dirty and scarce drinking water. Despite being situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, Agra today suffers from a severe water crisis, complain residents.

It has been 18 years since 21 people of the Khatik Pada area died after drinking contaminated municipal water May 21, 1993. But it's still a daily battle out here. People here receive chlorinated water.

The authorities say they are helpless as there is hardly any water left in the Yamuna, which is the chief source of water for this historic city and was once also a mesmerising backdrop for the 17th century Taj Mahal.

'All overhead tanks need urgent cleaning and repairs. Only additional release can flush out pollutants in the river which are taking a heavy toll on aquatic life. The Yamuna water is pale yellow with a high level of toxic wastes,' said Bankey Lal Maheshwari, who runs a network of water huts in the city called Sri Nathji Nishulk Jal Sewa.

Surendra Sharma of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, who has been fighting against the administration for water woes, said:

'Perhaps they are waiting for another tragedy.'

The trickle of a stream that flows in one part of the Yamuna is sewage, effluents and waste flowing from Delhi and upstream cities. This 'liquid called water is recycled, chlorinated and bleached and pumped into the network of the city', said Sharma.

With a population of 1.6 million, Agra's total water requirement is around 350 million litres per day (mld), of which around 250 mld is for drinking.

Although the Agra Jal Sansthan or Agra Water Works (AWW) has a treatment capacity of 410 mld, officials say there are too many bottlenecks such as outdated pumping and filtration plants.

The plants rarely run above 60 percent capacity. The city's groundwater is unfit for drinking. 'It's saline and high in fluoride content,' admit AWW officials.

The whole of May has seen sporadic scenes of violence, citizen marches and dharnas in different parts of Agra for regular supply of water and electricity. Protesting citizens from colonies, mohallas and bastis remain victims of contaminated supply by the century-old AWW.

'What the AWW is processing and recycling is sewage, industrial effluents and sewer waste from the upstream cities of Haryana and Delhi. The Yamuna is now dead,' said an official.

Despite hundreds of crores of rupees invested in infrastructure development in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone spread over 10,000 sq km, the districts of Agra and neighbouring Mathura and Firozabad continue to face acute shortage of power and water.

Expressing helplessness, Jawahar Ram, general manager, AWW, said, 'When there is no raw water in the river Yamuna, what can be done to ensure adequate water supply?'

D.K. Joshi, an activist who filed a petition in the Supreme Court 10 years ago and secured orders for investment in water supply and drainage infrastructure, says crores of rupees have been squandered away without any meaningful results.

'The plans that they have of bringing Ganga Jal to Agra at an exorbitant cost of Rs.1,200 crore, as investment from the Japanese Bank, (Japan Bank for International Cooperation) will go waste like earlier schemes. The corruption in the ranks of the government has resulted in such chaotic conditions and no one knows what is in store for this great erstwhile Mughal city,' alleges Joshi.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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