Guwahati’s water woes 

Saturday, 05 December 2020



Guwahati’s water woes 

Dr Navanil Barua | February 22, 2018 17:10 hrs

All the woes of the city apart, I today am concerned about an impending disaster looming large even as no one seems to be any more concerned other than having a perfunctory interest. 


I am talking of the water shortage in the city. Guwahati has grown exponentially in the last three decades. The city, bursting at its seams, has spilled to areas which were cultivable lands, swamps or forests. The hills are badly mauled and robbed off its beauty. The ever increasing human settlements, commercial establishments and industries require the elixir of life called water. 


Today, the heart of the city has an apology of a water supply scheme from the British days and that’s it. To meet their needs over time, most people began to depend on private sources of water. Dug wells and shallow tube wells used to suffice. As the population grew, these fast drying shallow sources proved insufficient in the lean winter months. The municipal water sources were growing old with frequent breakdowns and erratic supply. The next thing to come up was the obvious - groundwater. 


To satiate its growing water needs, Guwahati began to dig holes deep into mother earth. Rich in aquifers, it yielded rich dividends. Being costly, it was restricted to shared accommodations like apartment buildings, housing colonies and the rich households. Gradually, with increased affordability and easy availability of drilling machinery, all and sundry decided to dig deep tube wells. While it kept on supplying good quality water, mother earth is slowly exhausting its bounty. The water table is shrinking rapidly. Isn't it astonishing that majority in the city depends on deep tube wells for its water needs? Since the deep tube wells are gradually failing, most are now augmenting their water requirements from commercially available water tankers even though not all of these supply harvested river water; some even use ground water. To top it all, local politicians have dug deep tube wells and pumped water to localities from their LAD funds. Given all of this, it is just a matter of time that these wells will dry up as well. 


For the last few years, Guwahati has seen a massive pipeline laying exercise all over the city assisted by a loan from Japanese agency, JICA. Notwithstanding the allegation of a major kickback scam from across our international borders, we still saw hope in it. It was supposed to suck in water from the Brahmaputra at two points, purify and supply the same to the whole city through the massive network of pipes laid over the last couple of years. The first part ought to have been commissioned by 2017 but alas, it’s already 2018 and not a drop has flowed through any of the pipes. Now horror stories are surfacing that the drawing of water from Brahmaputra was ill-designed and hence it’s not feasible to draw water from the river from these two points. A new source construction or technical planning shall require time and resources; both are constrained. So, what has this scheme achieved? City roads totally ruined! Dust and muck! The pipes are lying empty creating a pressure gradient between its inside and outside. There is a theoretical risk that pressure may force leaks from outside in. If that happens, should these pipes ever supply water with possible health hazards surfacing? Moreover, how is the Japanese loan going to be serviced if water is not sold to the city inhabitants? 


What is the way forward? First and foremost, the city administrators need to realise the gravity of the problem and foresee the impending crisis. They must not be tempted to dismiss the problem citing that the whole world is facing water crisis and Guwahati cannot be an exception. Can we not be an exception by getting around the crisis? My suggestion to the city leaders: First, come clean on the current affairs vis-a-vis, the JICA stalemate. Talk to experts from IIT-G to detect, design and correct the water source assuming the rumours are true. Do all of it on war footing; time is at a premium. While looking for alternate sources, a sustained campaign of water preservation needs to be undertaken urgently. Make it compulsory for all to have grey water recycling. Let there be rain water harvesting. Let there be measures for groundwater recharging of rainfall. 


Be assured Guwahati is staring at a humongous disaster. Wake up city Lords! Posterity shall not remember you kindly should you fail to act now.


  Dr Navanil Barua is a neurosurgeon by profession and a socio-political activist by choice; he is a resident of Guwahati.


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