By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, May 21 (IANS) A quarter century after 25 people died from drinking contaminated water supplied by the civic body, the Taj city continues to face an acute shortage of safe drinking water for its urban population of two million.
On May 21, 1993, over two dozen people in Khatik Para, Ghatiya, Mandi Sayeed Khan areas died and over 200 were hospitalised after they consumed water from a tank in Sanjay Place commercial complex.
Many politicians, including then Uttar Pradesh Governor Moti Lal Vora, visited the city to console the bereaved families and promised a job each to the victims’ families.
Residents, who observed a Black Day on Monday, said they have not received any help from the state.
Local leader Tajendra Rajora said people feel cheated. “Many families lost their bread winners and children continued to survive in chill penury.”
Over the years, the situation has not improved. People continue to consume piped water from two municipal water works which depend entirely on Yamuna for raw water.
“Unfortunately, the Yamuna river, now virtually a sewage canal, runs dry for most part of the year and what flows down is the sewer, domestic waste and effluents from upstream cities including Delhi,” says environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.
Residents in the heart of the city can be seen lining up for water twice a day with their pots and tanks. The taps, they say, cough up more air than water.
Dozens of colonies in the Trans Yamuna area are without drinking water facilities and are forced to buy from tanker suppliers.
River Connect Campaign activists held a protest meeting near Yamuna on Monday to raise the issue of polluted water supply.
“We want Yamuna river restored to its original glory. For a long time, we have been demanding a barrage downstream of the Taj Mahal but the state government is dragging its feet on this important issue,” said Harendra Gupta, former Indian Medical Association President and a river activist.
The Water Works officials pleaded helplessness, saying there is no water in Yamuna, which is the lifeline of the city.
River activist Shravan Kumar Singh told IANS: “For all practical purposes, Yamuna is dead downstream of Okhla barrage.”
A dry Yamuna is a threat both to humans and stone monuments. “It is necessary to keep Yamuna full of water for the safety of historical monuments along its banks,” he added.
Taj city’s water needs have increased along with its population, but no new arrangements have been made to augment raw water supply.
The city is now waiting for Ganga river water to be brought from Bulandshahr district through a pipeline network costing Rs 3,000 crore. The project should be operational after monsoon.
“It is sad and unfortunate that a quarter century after the water tragedy, nothing has changed — neither the quality nor the quantity.
“The government agencies have done nothing to provide help to the family members of the tragedy,” said Rajiv Gupta, former National Chamber of Industries and Commerce President.
Gupta demanded immediate cleaning of community ponds and desilting of Yamuna.
Youth activists Omkar Bhardwaj and Ajay Tomar said water is the primary need. They said “fancy projects can wait. The Yogi government should address Agra’s water woes immediately”.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)