GUWAHATI: Mamun Haque (65) has been living at Hatigaon since the 1980s. But for the first in nearly four decades, he has had to buy drinking water as both his wells — both over 60 feet deep — have gone dry.
“Since December, I have been dependent on private water tankers that provide supplies twice a week. We have a three-member family and use 750 litres over three or four days. That much water costs anything between Rs 220 and Rs 250,” Haque told TOI.
Guwahati, an aspiring smart city with an estimated population of 14 lakh, has been facing water shortage with underground reserves drying up. People are often forced to buy water during the dry season, which has been the story for many years now. But this time, water is a key electoral issue, at least for the voters.
“Political parties should include drinking water in their manifestos as priority. We don’t care about the CAA or fight for civilization/culture as projected by the politicians. We need water to survive but no one is talking about it,” said Ashis Dev Roy (55), a resident of 21 No. Ward.
Roy’s family has been living in the Kalapahar area for the last 40 years and buying potable water since 2000. The Roys purchase 1,500 litres every week for Rs 500. “We just need water, nothing else,” he said.
The government’s own statistics provided by Assam Urban Infrastructure Investment Programme say that only 40% of the population of Guwahati has access to central piped water supply. The vast majority of the people are dependent on other sources.
The state government under Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority had taken up four major water supply projects in 2009 to supply 433 million litres daily. These are likely to get over by next year, and Haque has been counting on that for permanent relief. He says already, pipelines have been laid in his area. But for immediate relief, he is counting on a good monsoon.
Prasanta Bhattacharya, associate professor in geography at Gauhati University, has done some research on the situation. “Drinking water is the most serious problem confronting people in the city. This is a fundamental right that people don’t have. Our 2014 study shows there has been a perceptible reduction in the groundwater level in the last 10-12 years, affecting 79% households,” Bhattacharya said. He reasoned that over-exploitation of groundwater through haphazard building activity has led to this. In fact, things are now so bad that if the authorities don’t intervene fast, people will continue to suffer adversely in winter and spring.
City resident Arshel Akhter agrees with Bhattacharya. “Most people have installed deep borewells to access groundwater. A few more decades of such ‘growth’ will surely sink our beloved Guwahati as is currently happening in many cities worldwide like Manila, Jakarta, etc,” said Akhter, an urbanist.
But he has a solution in mind.
“We need to build artificial water bodies all around the city to soak up the rain, just like the Ahom kings used to do. Also, suburbs have to be developed so that people from the city can relocate there. We actually need more cities rather than just one big city,” Akhter said.