Pune’s No 1 ranking in the Ease of Living index contrasts sharply with ground realities, especially when one considers the most basic requirement of all, water. Despite recording one of its heaviest rainfalls this season (561.8 mm, according to Dr Anupam Kashyapi, Head, Weather & Air Pollution Monitoring Unit, India Meteorological Department), and the district’s four dams — Khadakwasla, Panshet, Varasgaon, and Temghar — being nearly full, the city is facing a shortage of water and inequitable supply.
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“In our area, we have seen flooding in some societies while we queue up for drinking water”, said a distraught Arvind Vichare from Sinhagad Road. “We have been getting water at very low pressure for the past few months,” said Swanand Bhagwat, another resident from Sinhagad Road. “As we stay on the top floor, the taps hardly dispense any drinking water. We have to go to the ground floor to fill water and now that too is a problem with these water cuts.”
Abhijeet Kadam, resident of Ekta Nagar Parisar, added, “Water cuts should have been stopped after the rains started. Ironically, while our society is flooded, we have to worry about drinking water. Why is the PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) not supplying sufficient water when the dams are full?”
Poor distribution by PMC
Faced with continuous water cuts, Puneites are looking for sustainable solutions from the Pune Municipal Corporation, whose inefficient administration they blame for the city’s ongoing water woes. “We would understand if the dams didn’t have sufficient water in them, but now the dams are full; then why the cuts?” asked BJP corporator Manjusha Nagpure. “When I raised the issue, PMC officials failed to give convincing answers. The municipal commissioner has promised to hold a meeting regarding this.”
“Water cuts at a time when the Pavana dam is full is beyond comprehension,” echoed corporator Seema Savale, “The administration has failed badly. The civic chief should have put extra efforts to ensure proper distribution across the city.”
PMC, on its part, said the cut in water supply was to ensure equitable water distribution throughout the city. Standing Committee Chairman Vilas Madegiri argued that since some areas were getting less amount of water and other areas were receiving excess water, the civic administration decided on cut in supply to ensure equal distribution. “We will save 50 MLD water a day, which means 1,500 MLD will be saved in a month. This will help us tide over the water crisis in the future,” said Madegiri.
At around 200 litres per person per day, Pune’s total daily water requirement is well above the current daily water supply of 1350 MLD. Municipal Commissioner Shravan Hardikar said, “We need to plan ahead to avoid any shortage in the future and local residents should get used to saving water”.
Hardikar also cited rising population and leakages in the system as reasons for the inadequate water supply. “Due to rising population, which has gone past 25 lakh in PCMC alone, the civic administration is finding it difficult to adequately distribute water to the entire city,” said Hardikar. “Besides, leakages and deficiency in the system and lack of enough water sources have created an emergency like situation. Unless we improve our supply system, the situation will not improve.”
Tanker lobbies and illegal water connections
Under the circumstances, people are having to rely on tankers for meeting their water needs. On an average, residential societies purchase 5-8 water tankers per day at a cost of Rs 600 – Rs 800 per tanker. According to society member Arunkumar Nair of Palladium Grand on Dhanori-Lohegaon Road, residents in the area have been facing water shortage for the last ten years. “The housing society spends between Rs 12 lakh to Rs 16 lakh each year on water tankers,” said Arunkumar Nair. “Considering that we have been paying for water tankers since 2009, we have spent over Rs 1 crore. Despite complaining to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) the problem remains unaddressed. I see a link between the water tanker mafia and the PMC.”
Anand Shelke, a senior citizen and resident of Shirin Garden in Aundh blamed the slow progress of Smart City projects for the inadequate water supply. “How long will we survive this temporary life? There is no water in the taps, and I am 75 years old, how will I manage at this age?”
Making the problem worse are the 38,000 illegal water connections in city, according to PMC estimates. This stolen water is then sold back to people at high prices. Promising to put a stop to such illegal activities, PMC water department head V J Kulkarni said that the PMC is aware of such lobbies and is taking action to tackle the problem. “PMC has seized 23 electric pumps from various locations,” said Kulkarni. “We will continue efforts to curb erratic water supply in the city.”
The causes of the water shortages are well known: Leakages in the water supply channels, lop-sided distribution methods and a total absence of rainwater harvesting systems. To help tackle the existing water crisis, water and climate expert Col SG Dalvi (retd) suggested, “The authorities should first repair the existing supply lines and work on equal distribution to all areas before releasing water haphazardly and facing shortage by October”.
“For a corporation, which boasts of an income of about Rs 6,000 crore, why can’t a technically sound water management system be put in place?” asked Qaneez Sukhrani, secretary of the Nagrik Chetna Manch. “Also, if water tankers fill from the PMC water stations and supply to citizens at an astronomical cost, why can’t the corporation supply the same water directly through its supply and distribution lines?”
Experts have suggested installing rainwater harvesting to ease the situation. A recent analysis by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) determined that rooftop rainwater harvesting can help greatly in bridging the demand vs supply gap. One study pointed out that a small house in Pune can harvest close to 44,717 litres of rainwater during the monsoons, a medium-sized house 89,435 litres while a big house can harvest 1.34 lakh litres of water. But as of now, there is no mandatory requirement to install rainwater harvesting systems in residential and commercial complexes.
As monsoon set in over the city, State revenue minister Chandrakant Patil assured citizens that the water crisis will be resolved by June end. But the supply shortage has only got worse even as the rains flood many parts of the city. Puneites can only hope that the PMC will start to implement a robust repair and distribution framework, keep a regular check on tanker lobbies, and promote initiatives like rooftop rainwater harvesting. It’s all that they can do.