Despite being told to use borewell water, BEST uses the age-old 'no funds' excuse to continue wasting potable water even in these hard times for the city
Even as Mumbai — and the rest of Maharashtra — reels under the worst water crisis in years, the BEST Undertaking is wasting thousands of litres of drinking water just to wash its buses. Every day, the Undertaking spends over 70,000 litres of water for this, and almost the entire amount comes from the BMC’s potable water supply.
This, despite the fact that BEST was asked to avoid using drinking water and use borewell water instead. BEST Committee member, Ravi Raja pointed out, "It is wrong of the BEST to use potable water. They should make arrangements for borewells to avoid this wastage."
A reader sent pictures and video of drinking water being wasted to wash the buses at the Santacruz depot
When mid-day contacted BEST, they fell back on the old excuse that they did not have the funds to dig borewells. "Yes, we are using potable water for washing, but we are curtailing its use as much as possible. We are also using this potable water to supply to our staff quarters. Everyone knows our financial condition, and incurring additional expenditure on borewells is difficult, although I agree that it is necessary. Also, our mechanised cleaning machines helps us reduce the use of water," said Jagdish Patil, general manager of the BEST Undertaking.’
"There is already a huge amount of water shortage in some parts of the state and the situation in Marathwada is particularly serious, as there is no water for the people. IPL matches from the state are also being shifted out of Maharashtra because of the water scarcity, but here, the BEST seems to be least concerned," said a person, who sent mid-day a video of buses being washed with drinking water at the Santacruz bus depot.
BEST fleet numbers around 4,000 buses across its 27 depots in the city. A total of 400 buses are washed thoroughly every day, spending about 72,000 litres of water (see box).
Officials tried to justify this massive waste of potable water, saying they had reduced consumption in the past few months by reducing the number of washes by 50%. Earlier, buses would be washed six times a month, whereas they are now washed three times. BEST also introduced mechanised jet sprays, which require 40% less water. The jet wash takes around 10 minutes, while the manual wash usually takes longer and wastes more water.
So, while manual washing requires 200 litres of water per bus, the jet wash requires 120 litres.
However, since only about a fourth of the buses are being washed with the jet sprays, the daily water consumption has been merely reduced from 80,000 litres to 72,000 litres per day. The officials said that it is mostly buses that are in a filthy condition that are put through the jet wash while the rest are either washed manually or not at all.
The workers use high-pressure pipes to remove dirt and other stains from the exterior and interiors of the buses. However, even the sprays are not without fault — sources said there have been cases where even CCTV cameras inside the buses get doused and break down.
Andheri resident, Amey Sawant said, "It’s not just BEST buses, I think there are many other places also where water is being wasted. But if BEST is using potable water to wash buses, they should clarify about the same and immediately stop this practice. The need of the hour is to act responsibly and save water."
What is most shocking is that the Undertaking is almost entirely dependent on the drinking water supply for the buses, even though the BMC had asked it to dig borewells for this purpose around 3-4 years ago. Out of the 27 depots, only the ones at Poisar, Magathane, Colaba and Deonar use borewell water. BEST Committee member, Ranjan Chaudhari said, "The administration needs to increase its dependence on borewell but they can also use tanker water whenever necessary."
That's how it's done
Just a week ago, mid-day had reported how the railways drastically cut down on its water consumption — by about 50% — after it started cleaning trains manually, instead of depending on the mechanised system.