Water theft causes crisis at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital
GUWAHATI: The Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) recently faced an acute water crisis due to the alleged siphoning off of water from the Pan Bazaar water treatment plant (WTP).
The attendants to the patients complained that they did not get water in the bathrooms and had to go out to procure water for the patients admitted in the government hospital – the largest in central Assam.
“My husband is admitted here for about seven days. I am his attendant and have to go out for water three times every day. For a patient, the water requirement is high. Most of the time there is no water in the bathroom and even if it comes, it is for a brief period of 10-15 minutes, within which we have to fill up our containers. When it doesn’t, we have to go outside for water,” said Sikha Biswas, an attendant.
Another, Nafiza Khatun, said “My son has jaundice and he is admitted here for three days now. It is well-known that such patients require a lot of clean water. I have to go out to fetch water at least 6-7 times and then stand in the queue in front of the bathrooms when water comes. All this time, I just ran to and fro looking for water and could not attend to my son properly.”
The GMCH procures water from two major sources – 60 per cent of which is from the Pan Bazar WTP that has a capacity of 25 million litres per day and and the rest 40 per cent from a pump station at Bhangagarh. Water from these sources not only provides for the hospital, but also to the college atop the Narakasur hill, doctor’s quarters and the hostels.
A student residing in one of the hostels under condition of anonymity, said, “We don’t get enough water. We have informed our warden regarding the same but the crisis still persists.”
When contacted, Ramen Talukdar, the superintendent of GMCH, terming the water supply as “erratic” said that the hospital is somehow managing.
“There is a lack of water regarding which we have already appeased the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department. Right now, no official works of the hospital are getting hampered, but we are somehow managing,” Ramen Talukdar told G Plus here.
A source in the hospital, however, said that the water supply is only enough to run the various machines and the basic functioning of the hospital.
“A lot of machines require regular supply of water. Next comes the cleaning of the hospital which again needs a lot of water. But, besides this, the water in the bathrooms and for the patients is not available on a regular basis,” the source revealed.
25 lakh litres water siphoned off daily through 367 unauthorised water connections
Due to an alleged scam in the Public Health department, as much as 25 lakh litres of water gets siphoned off daily through 367 unauthorised lines from the Pan Bazar WTP. This was exposed after an internal inquiry conducted by the department months back.
According to a reliable source in the department, this unauthorised supply of water has been going on for over a period of 5 years since the tenure of Amal Bhagawati, an executive engineer of PHE.
“The water channels from the WTP run through Pan Bazar and end at GMCH. It also channels to the IAS colony. While GMCH consumes bulk of the supplied water, it also gets distributed to personal and commercial lines through small channels. While, many of those are legal lines taken through GMC, several are unauthorised,” the source said.
Installed in 1963, the Pan Bazar WTP had an initial capacity of 45 million litre daily that decreased by about 55.5 per cent to 25 million litre daily.
The source revealed that most of the restaurants and hotels in Paltan Bazar operate by procuring water from these illegal connections.
“Among the unauthorised connections detected, several are restaurants and hotels at Paltan Bazar. The enquiry revealed that a bribe of Rs. 5-6 lakh was paid to the employees involved by the restaurants for getting these connections. It still is cheaper for those who got the connections as, digging a boring well would have cost them about Rs. 8-9 lakh. Also, they do not have to pay any monthly tax for water,” revealed the source.
While the WTP and the water pipeline network belong to the PHE, the water supply tax is collected by the GMC.
Bhagawati, has already been transferred to Haflong after the inquiry, while the source shared that several other employees are under scanner.
“At least 8 more employees including two engineers are under the department’s scanner. After the inquiry is over, either they will be suspended, or transferred,” said the source.
Other WTPs under GMC scanner
The PHE, after inquiry had informed the Guwahati Municipal Corporation regarding the alleged siphoning off of water following which, the latter is now mulling into conducting an inquiry whether such anomalies are prevalent in other procuring sources and water pipeline distribution channels.
Besides the Pan Bazar WTP, the GMC supplies water from plants at Satpukhuri and Kamakhya and eight deep tube wells at different localities of the city.
“The city is already facing a major water crisis and it will remain the same until the complete commissioning of the three water supply projects that are being constructed in the city. But, till then, we will have to manage within whatever little resources we have. We have started inquiry into the various water channels and will weed out the illegal connections so that the genuine connection holders can receive water seamlessly,” a highly-placed source in the Water branch said.
While the city’s water requirement has increased, the capacity of WTPs has decreased over the years. The quantity of water supply has decreased from 74 million litres daily to 44.50 million litres now.
Besides Pan Bazar, the filtering capacity of Satpukhuri WTP, which was built in 1930 and then rebuilt again in 1980, has decreased from 22.50 million litres daily to 15 million litres daily and the Kamakhya WTP, built in 1992 has decreased from 4.5 million litres daily to 3 million litres daily. It procures another 2 million litres through the rest eight deep tube wells.
This available quantity serves only 30 per cent of the city’s population and until the three water supply projects – the Japan International Corporation Agency-funded South Central Guwahati Water Supply Project, the Asian Development Bank-funded East Guwahati water project and the JNNURM project of West Guwahati water project – are completed, water scarcity will remain a common issue for Guwahatians.
“Even after these projects, the onus will be on the Jal Board while the GMC will have to maintain its water network and WTPs under it. Right now, besides the major loss of water, it is incurring a loss in the state exchequer, too,” the source said.