Groundwater, which is the main source of drinking water for about 25 per cent of Indias population living in cities, has become a cocktail of chemicals and human waste.
Towns like Aligarh, Bhagalpur, Rourkela, Guwahati, Meerut and several others are beset by similar of problems. Unabated urbanisation and lack of investment for infrastructure development have had a disastrous impact. For instance, no water reaching the residents of Aligarh is safe. The first layer of water table from which the majority of the population draw water is 6 - 9 m deep and highly contaminated. The second layer, 18 -21 m deep, has traces of mica, making it naturally contaminated.
Almost every small and medium towns are on the way to becoming an urban nightmare. Shockingly, no organised civic effort to initiate change has been initiated. Let us focus on the Meerut scenario.
Meerut, the most advanced district of western Uttar Pradesh, in terms of literacy and agriculture is experiencing the crunch. However, the problem of contamination is intensifying - making residents and authorities tense. Recently, with CSEs support a local non-governmental organisation, Janhit Foundation (JF), organised a day-long seminar to address the problem.
The major source of drinking water within the Meerut Municipal Corporation limits is tubewell. Estimated 46,000 tubewells are privately owned and about 500 are owned by the government. Out of the 70 wards, about 59 are provided with adequate municipal supply. Remaining 11 wards lack a systematised supply. Over the years, the dependence on groundwater has skyrocketed resulting in the depletion of aquifers. During a Rajya Sabha debate, C P Thakur, the union minister of water resources, mentioned Meerut as the town recording a fall of more than 4 m in water tables every year.
In 2002, CSE along with JF studied Meeruts water quality.(www.cseindia.org/html/lab) The analysis of samples collected from handpump and municipal water supply source in different parts of the city indicates a dangerous trend. The concentration of total dissolved solids, magnesium and chloride were above the permissible limits. Bromide content was also found to be high - making it unfit for drinking purposes even after chlorination. However, the municipality has completely overlooked this fact, as their supply continues as before. These problems are creeping in as a number of poisonous effluents from various industries are increasingly dumped into surface water sources without adequate treatment. Further, intensive sugarcane production in Meerut district has not only led to overexploitation of groundwater reserves but also in intensifying pollution.
In April 2001, the building bylaws were amended to make rainwater harvesting mandatory in both the old and new constructions. But its implementation is far from satisfactory. Further, contamination can only be checked if the polluting units are pressurised by people to adopt proper treatment facilities.
In Meerut, unlike in other cities, atleast a public debate has begun to make groundwater free of poison.
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