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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Mid Day Impact Safe drinking water Not a pipe dream anymore

Mid-Day Impact | Safe drinking water: Not a pipe dream anymore

Updated on: 18 June,2024 07:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rian K | mailbag@mid-day.com

BMC is laying a new six-inch diameter pipeline to end water woes of Subramaniam Nagar and LBS Nagar slums in H East ward

Mid-Day Impact | Safe drinking water: Not a pipe dream anymore

Local residents have put up banners to thank mid-day for the new pipeline. Pic/Ashish Raje

Following a series of reports in mid-day on water contaminated with faecal matter at Subramaniam Nagar and LBS Nagar slums of Santacruz East, BMC is constructing a new pipeline that it says will solve their water woes forever. The then municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal took cognizance of the matter and forwarded an email with mid-day’s reports to the assistant municipal commissioner (AMC) and to the hydraulics engineer.


Sleep deprivation, dependency on painkillers, skin ailments, absenteeism from work due to illness, high medical expenses causing inability to pay for children’s education caused by toxic water provided to residents of Subramaniam Nagar, may reduce after the new pipeline is constructed by the BMC in the area. However, having suffered for seven long years, the residents are sceptical.



Former BMC chief IS Chahal’s email citing mid-day’s reportsFormer BMC chief IS Chahal’s email citing mid-day’s reports


“I have been getting contaminated water every day for seven years for no fault of mine. Despite being a victim I have to pay the establishment for enduring this injustice,” said Nitin Kamble, representing the Community Based Organisation (CBO) of the area. mid-day has complaint letters on water dating back seven years. 
An assistant engineer overlooking the project wants to assure residents that this is a permanent solution “The results will do the talking. A lot of money is being invested in this work to ensure nothing goes wrong. Residents’ concerns of murky water and inadequate pressure will disappear after the project is completed.”

Difference of opinion

The BMC blames residents passing their pipes through the open drains for the contamination and the disadvantaged position of the slum dwellings for the inadequate pressure. Residents counter that the cleaner route has inadequate pressure and in their experience have resulted in water shortage. BMC agrees that the cleaner route works well for nearby housing societies as the main pipe reduces in size as it reaches the slum because of its position. The hand pumps are a testament that even the nullah route may not ensure sufficient supply. However, commenting on the clean water with adequate pressure that followed for a day after mid-day’s first report on the issue, residents now claim that this is proof that the municipal water works department could allot adequate water to the slum. Residents fear that people who may not benefit from the new pipeline will resort to taking their pipes through the drains and thus making this entire exercise futile. In August 2023 mid-day tested faecal matter and an unusual 300 units of E. Coli and the monsoon make the water significantly more dangerous.

Bhanumati Yadav says she has rashes on her back; (right) Suman Mishra says he has constant redness on his chestBhanumati Yadav says she has rashes on her back; (right) Suman Mishra says he has constant redness on his chest

Water at the cost of sleep

mid-day saw residents make several attempts to pump water past midnight until sunrise corroborating their claim that their pursuit of water robs them of their sleep as there is no fixed time when the less murky water will flow. For most it takes 30 minutes to an hour of the physically demanding task of pumping out dark black water until a little clearer yet dirty form comes out for 15 minutes which they put to domestic use. Bhanumati Yadav claimed she wakes up every two hours in hope of getting clearer water, giving her 3-4 hours of unsound sleep every night. This new pipeline might help her sleep better. She takes the medicines, which makes her nauseous, for the pain she experiences resulting from pumping.

“The lack of sleep and side effects of the medicines have made me lifeless, I used to have suicidal thoughts. My eyes burn, my head is constantly hurting. I get irritable which impacts my relationships. I keep my pain to myself.” she said.

Municipal workers laying the new pipeline in Santacruz EastMunicipal workers laying the new pipeline in Santacruz East

Skin ailments are common in the locality. “I wonder which part of my body will start itching after having a bath in this water. I come back home from a hard day of labour, craving for a refreshing bath especially in the summers but this is what I live with,” said Suman Mishra who has a constant redness and boils on his chest. Skin lotion for eczema, itch and ringworm has become a regular item for the Sharma family. His wife Meena’s skin ailment is worse as skin lotions only give her temporary relief.

Regular bills, yet no water

No water comes out of Sarita Gaikwad’s connection, yet she is expected to pay her bills. Kurade Bhimrao’s first three-monthly bill of 2023 is Rs 592 and the last bill of the year is Rs 673, “I source my water from elsewhere so how did they come up with these figures? They have never come into our slum to read the meters, hence we did not pay attention to its maintenance and many of the meters get damaged when [utility] contractors carry out their work,” said Bhimrao.

Mathew Mattam, founder,  Centre for Youth Development  and ActivitiesMathew Mattam, founder, Centre for Youth Development and Activities

With pending bills it will not be easy to get connection to the new pipeline. Kamble has no amount due he will be eligible for the reconnection to the new pipe. However for people like Shankar Jha who have not paid their bills it is expected to be a problem. “How can I afford to buy clean water from elsewhere and pay the municipal bills at the same time? Why should I pay for water which could kill me? I would have considered paying if our meter readings are recorded like they do for buildings,” Jha said. He added that unlike the company that provides power, the municipal corporation doesn’t even bother to deliver the water bills to their residence. The bunch of bills is dumped in a place and it is up to the residents to look for their water bill, Jha said. 

Trickle effect on economy

For Arjun Lokhande clean water could mean the ability to pay his children’s school fees and not miss out on work opportunities due to sickness. He said, “I have missed out on work contracts worth Rs 2 lakh because of water borne diseases. My hardwork and dreams are failing because of repeated sickness.” His medical records reveal septic shock and low haemoglobin.

Professor Vibhuti Patel, retired, department of economics, SNDT Women’s University, speaking about the toll that lack of access to potable water might have on the economy, said, “According to the human capital formation approach, investment in the health of human beings is crucial to economic development. If preventive health care in terms of public health intervention for Water and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is not ensured, the population will be falling ill frequently due to vector-borne diseases. As a result, absenteeism at work increases.”

Patel added that the government can reduce the strain on healthcare systems and reduce medical expenditures from the budget if clean WASH services are provided to the poor. “This will also greatly improve the physical quality of life index. The United Nations has established the cost-to-benefit ratio in investing in WASH is 1:5,” she said. 

MatiKalp water filters

Centre for Youth Development and Activities (CYDA) was ready to distribute 400 MatiKalp water filters to the residents but put it on hold due to this BMC’s announcement to lay a new pipeline. CYDA founder Mathew Mattam said, “We have been tracking the developments of the slum through mid-day and wanted to help out to provide safe drinking water as a fundamental human right. We will wait and analyse for some more time and if the problem resurfaces we will distribute the water filters.” At CYDA’s 25th anniversary celebrations, Anand Shekhar, additional mission director of NITI Ayog said that clean water, sanitation and hygiene is a fundamental human right and the foundation of human development.

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