[Reader-list] Water Supply in Bhalsawa- 2nd posting

lalit batra lalitbatra77 at yahoo.co.in
Fri Jun 25 00:03:33 IST 2004

Water Supply in Bhalsawa
Bhalsawa JJ colony is situated on the Northeastern edge of Delhi
surrounded by an overused landfill site, Bhalsawa Dairy and a string of
unauthorised colonies. The colony was set up in November 2000 when 526
slums were evicted from the Yamuna Pushta area and resettled in Bhalsawa.
Within 14 months another 4000 odd families were moved to Bhalsawa from
slum clusters located in areas as far flung as Garhi (East of Kailash),
Jehangirpuri, Gopal Pur, Preet Vihar, Ashok Vihar, Seelam Pur, Teen Murti,
Dakshin Puri, Rohini and Nizamuddeen. 
Bhalsawa was touted as the model resettlement colony by the then Union
Minister for Urban Development but that gave little solace to the people
who when moved to Bhalsawa found out that it was a completely barren piece
of land with virtually no facility to meet even the most basic human
necessities. One of the things that people desperately wanted and couldn’t
see anywhere was water both for drinking as well as other purposes. There
were of course a few hand pumps installed but instead of water they poured
out a foul smelling, saline liquid.  On the back wall, in bold red
lettering there was a warning cautioning people not to use this liquid for
drinking purposes. In desperation many people turned to the nearby
gurudwara, which had been standing lonely in the middle of this barren
wasteland for quite some years. The gurudwara authorities who were
probably annoyed with the sudden deluge of ramshackle hutments in its
courtyard refused to oblige. But this cold- shouldering couldn’t last long
as people became more desperate and thus more persistent. Even then they
didn’t allow people to fetch water from inside its premises. Instead a
water pipe would be given outside the boundaries of the gurudwara on
certain hours of the day and people were expected to take, in a
‘disciplined’ manner, not more than their minimum requirements of water. 
Its now over three and a half years since Bhalaswa JJ colony was set up
but even now it stands on the margins of the water supply network of the
city both in terms of the quantity as well as the quality of water with
little opportunity (because of geographical marginalisation) for the
people to tap into the pipes that give more and better quality water,
something which they could do when they were living in jhuggie-jhopri
clusters. The move from inner city slums to the ‘colony’, lying outside
the network of a functional civic infrastructure, has thus severely
limited the capacity of the poor to lay claim to common urban resources.  
Presently, there are three main sources of water in Bhalaswa JJ colony.
The first one being hand pumps, some of which have been installed by the
government while some are individually owned. Hand pumps promise 24 hours
supply of water though this water is absolutely unfit for drinking,
cooking or bathing. Hand pumps seem to be fairly evenly distributed within
the colony. The second source of water is the sarkari tap. These are few
and are concentrated in blocks A-2, A-3 and A-5. The reason for these
blocks having more taps probably lies in the presence of a powerful CBO
called Bhalsawa Lok Shakti Manch, which is associated with an NGO called
Ankur. These three blocks are mainly inhabited by people from Gautam Puri
(Yamuna Pushta) and Garhi. Since Ankur had been working amongst the people
of Gautam Puri for more than a decade they are a lot more organised than
people living in other blocks. The activists of Ankur and Bhalsawa Lok
Shakti Manch have staged many protests against the pathetic water
condition in the colony and forced the authorities to improve it to some
extent. Now, in town planning parlance, the arrival of sarkari taps
signals an integration of the settlement with the main supply network of
the city. But for the residents of Bhalsawa taps are more of a bane than a
boon. The reason being that the water these taps give is no better than
the water that hand pumps provide. I saw people fighting with each other
to fetch a bucket or two of a stinking, dark yellow liquid, which is
provided by the authorities in the name of water. People told me that on
some fortunate late nights or early mornings water is not coloured though
it is foul smelling nevertheless. This water is preserved and used for
drinking purposes. 
The blocks where water taps are practically non-existent are serviced
through water tankers. Tanker water is locally believed to be the purest
water available in the colony. But tankers come only once every two–three
days. So every time a tanker arrives, there is a mad scramble, which has
many a time resulted in violent skirmishes between the people. The curious
paradox lies in the fact that those who have gained better access to
‘regular’ or ‘mainstream’ water supply are forced to drink dirty water
whereas those who rely on ‘irregular’ or ‘ad hoc’ supply through tankers
seem to be getting relatively better quality of water. 

So we have a situation where the colony is largely divided into the blocks
getting more but filthy water and blocks getting less but comparatively
better quality water. And the experience of people in both the
circumstances is quite painful. 

Lalit Batra

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