Road depressions, empty buckets define Ward No 15’s miseries
The old ditty, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge has taken on a sinister connotation for the residents of Anil Nagar and Nabin Nagar who have been facing flash floods every monsoon for the last two decades and drinking water crisis throughout the year.
With at least three lives lost to flash floods in the last five years, having the former mayor and four-term councilor of the ward, Abir Patra, as its representative, has not done any good to the residents there. Patra was replaced as mayor by incumbent BJP’s Mrigen Sarania last year.
Trademarked by the foul stench of Bharalu River, Anil Nagar happens to be, contour-wise, the lowest point in the city and acts as a basin bowl to the rain water flowing down the hills into the river that flows from Zoo Road to Bhangagarh and defines the northern boundary of the ward. Hence, a flash flood occurs every time the city receives a smart downpour which then needs to be pumped out into the river.
The residents however fall into a catch-22 situation when the Bharalu, confined by walls about one and half feet tall (from the road level) on both sides, swells up and overflows inundating the entire area. The death reports started coming in when a youth was washed away by the river in 2013 and this followed two more such deaths the next year.
Following this, the then chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, had formed a committee to address the problem spearheaded by Additional Chief Secretary, MGVK Bhanu, which bore no result.
While geographic disadvantage, with a further ado of unplanned growth of the city, has attributed to this region becoming a victim to flash floods every year, scarcity of drinking water is a problem for which the locals blame the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) entirely.
To top their miseries, a pronounced depression of the road that runs parallel to the Bharalu along the wall into Anil Nagar, has also formed lately, which the locals think will eventually make the wall, that has been protecting this region, cave in if a more devastating flash flood was to strike.
Hopes dampening with delaying water project
With the water supply system in shambles and the new projects yet to see the light of day, the dwellers of Ward No 15 are bracing for hard days.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funded South Central Guwahati Water Supply Project, which was supposed to be the breather for city’s drinking water crisis with its promise of catering 107 million litres of water per day, has been pending implementation since the works started in 2011.
Government agencies like the GMC, the PHE and the Assam Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board supply only 92 million litres of water per day against a demand of 140 million litres/day. What’s more, the GMC supplies water to only 50,000 households in a city that has a population of more than 9 lakhs.
While the problem is consistent throughout the city, it holds more significance to this particular ward as the ground water in the area is mostly contaminated with the Bharalu River’s polluted water and to get clean water, it is required to dig too deep.
“Even the houses that have dug that deep and set up shallow tube-wells, deep tube-wells and wells does not get clear water during the monsoons when flash floods hit and fill those up with contaminated water. So, like it or not, we have to remain dependent on the water provided by the GMC twice every day. We can hardly fill one or two buckets with the water provided,” Dipankar Rabha, a resident of Anil Nagar told G Plus.
“We’ve had our hopes stacked up regarding the JICA water project, but it’s been delaying for so long and has hit so many impediments. So many scams and controversies have come to light that now we are now not very sure if this project will be completed at all,” Karan Medhi, a resident in the area said.
Jimi Chishi, a tenant in the same region said, “The only reason why I am here is that it is the cheapest place to stay in the vicinity of GS Road. We have to purchase water almost round the year and regularly during the winters, but then also, due to its problems, this area is cheaper in terms of rents than rest of the city.”
New threat of road depression along the wall
The road along the Bharalu River that runs from Bhangagarh, crossing Rajgarh, and further runs into Anil Nagar as Lakhimi Path has formed depressions at places which the locals said is caused due to void erosion under the roads by the Baharlu River.
According to a city-based engineer, JN Khataniar, the wall that separates the city from the river is only six feet deep and hence, void erosion is a factor that cannot be ruled out.
“Any water stream has a tendency of eroding the banks and Bharalu is no exception. But since it runs through the city, we cannot afford to let it erode. When the walls were formed, they were only six feet deep, which was the previous depth of the river bed. But, as the city grew, Bharalu turned into a city sewerage network. The population grew, the sewage quantity too grew, but the river’s capacity did not. Due to this, flash floods became even more pronounced in 2013. Later, the committee formed by Tarun Gogoi started dredging the river, and to increase its capacity, dug deeper than the initial depth when the walls were built. So, under the six feet depth, the wall is sitting upon soft soil that is prone to erosion. So, this might be one of the reasons for the depression on the road,” Khataniar explained.
“Another argument can be that land or soil is obviously much denser than water, and whenever a heavy vehicle passes or construction works occur in the vicinity of the river, it pushes towards the walls. A continued push might shift or tilt the wall due to which such depression formed,” Khataniar said.
Locals are scared that if something happens to the wall in the next monsoon, the overflowing river water will rush into the area aggravating the flood situation there. The engineers too share the same fear.
“We already have faced the brunt of flood more than the rest of the city. If the walls too break, I don’t think many of the houses will be saved. This is the only part of the city that is navigable by boats in monsoons. What could be worse?” Kanak Rai, another resident expressed.
Baffled councilor caught in bureaucratic catacomb
The councilor, Abir Patra, who happened to be Mayor under the erstwhile regime of Congress and is still a trusted councilor of the party, however, spared no opportunity to blame the incumbent government led by BJP with allegations of the government turning a deaf ear to the woes of the people of his ward.
“This ward lies in a low lying land in the city and that is why it requires more attention than other wards. The problems faced by the people here cannot be solved by the councilor or GMC alone. The matters are already in the hands of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority and other concerned departments. But this area being a stronghold of Congress is repeatedly neglected by the incumbent government. Funds are not being released timely. When released, these are either insufficient or the works are done incompetently,” Patra said.
He went on lamenting that, “I have raised the issue of drinking water crisis a number of times at several councilors’ meetings, but no steps have been taken so far. They cited that being in a low lying area, it is not possible to provide adequate water to this region until the water supply projects are complete.”
When Patra was asked what he had done during his tenure as Mayor, he said, “One must understand that until the flash flood problem of the city is solved, Anil Nagar, unfortunately, will continue to face the same problem. But it was during my tenure that the then chief minister, Taun Gogoi, had visited this ward to take stock of the people’s condition and started to mull a comprehensive solution to the problem. Under my leadership we had successfully raised the need of water supply projects in this region. Every good thing takes time, but I am sure, the project will solve the water crisis here.”
Patra also assured of raising the issue of road depressions to the GMC and Public Works Department.