If we can send man to the moon, why can’t we…?

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: During the last 19 years, I must have helped several hundreds of consumers with their water problems as a convener of the Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP). I must have devoted hundreds of hours to helping find medium and long-term solutions to Mysore’s water woes.

But when a water crisis hit my own residence last month, I was helpless.

We suffered for 19 gruelling days with water shortage. As a result I have better appreciation for the kind of problems we Mysoreans face if we do not act now on a war footing to confront the impending water crisis. Of course, poor slum-dwellers have have become immune and those who have bore wells are well protected.

Here is my sad story of restoring water supply which took 19 days to resolve.

On 18 July, when I found out that only our house did not get water supply, I called the inspector of the Vani Vilas Water Works (VVWW). To my surprise he arrived within two hours. He did not know where the bore point was. (The bore point is the place which connects the main water supply to a house.)

To my misfortune, it turned out that the bore point was 70 feet from the meter and far away from my house. It took the better part of one day of digging to locate it. They found that it was blocked. When it was cleaned, I started to get water supply only near the meter, but not in the sump.

The water inspector suggested that my 20-year-old pipeline was corroded and needed replacement. There were two sections: one under the road and another on the footpath in front of my house. It was decided that only the footpath section needed replacement.

After a day, he brought a plumbing contractor who was ready to do the job for Rs 2,500. Since I did not feel he was professional enough, I contacted another contractor through a friend of mine. He agreed to do the job for Rs 1,000.

Though I was surprised by such a low bid, I did not doubt about his expertise since he was working at my friend’s factory.

From my conversation with him, I learnt that he had had very little schooling, he had done similar work for more than 10 years, that he was not a registered plumber, that he worked under the wings of his registered brother, etc. He completed the job of replacing the pipeline in a few hours.

But there was no water the next day.

It was already 10 days since the start of the water problem.

When I called the contractor to share my problem, he was in Tirupati and would return only after three days. He agreed to send his assistant, another person with little schooling. He came and tightened the fitting. Still there was not a single drop in my sump, but a lot of water was still leaking on to the road.

Each morning, I went through the ritual of inspecting the sump for water, calling the water inspector, telephoning the plumber, etc. This drama took place for three days. Finally, I realized that the plumber had connected the inlet from the mains to my earlier discarded pipeline. Therefore, the water, instead of going into the sump, was going to the road.

Finally that was set right on August 1. Still, water did not gush out of our taps the next day either. Now the water started to leak from the section of the old pipeline under the road. When the plumber worked on replacing the pipeline, he had mishandled it to damage the older pipeline under the road and it had now started leaking.

This time I decided to go along with the plumbing contractor recommended by water inspector. His charges were Rs 2,000 and I had to agree. But there was another problem: I had to get road cutting clearance from the Mysore City Corporation.

When I went to the MCC office, I was asked to get the application submitted by the plumber and was told that it would take few days to give the clearance.

When I explained that water was leaking all over the road, it did not make any impression.

When I told him that I would go to his boss, he was upset with me and told me that he has not even asked for a bribe and why I was being rude. Finally, I called the Assistant commissioner and he gave me oral permission for the road cutting over the phone.

The second plumber promised to come on August 5. At the appointed time when he did not show up, I called him only to find out he had gone to some other place to work even after he had told me that he had left for my house. Thus it was one more day without water and one more breaking of promise.

Finally, he replaced the pipeline with the help of five people. Four of them were new employees he had picked up to cut the road. His plumbing expert also had no schooling. I insisted that no plumbing work would be done without the presence of the contractor.

Finally water started to come on August  7, exactly 19 days after my first complaint.

I am now trying to find out how I can pay the road cutting charges and it has turned out to be an even harder task.

If the VVVW had competent employees, I would have got the correct diagnosis of the problem and my problem would have been solved within days. They had no idea where the water mains and bore point were. But for the timely assistance by the assistant commissioner, the MCC staff would have delayed my repair work by some more days resulting in more loss of water and more problems for me.

The most glaring lesson for me was the absence of competent, professional plumbers.

I wonder how many residents suffer like I have silently when all this can be easily avoided by having an autonomous body to look after a city’s water supply. Just look at how long it takes to get an internet connection repaired which is definitely not as important as getting water supply.

We also need a body which trains professionals like plumbers, electricians, painters etc and certifies them. Above all, we, as a society, need to realize that we have water crisis today and it will only get worse. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) provides funding. But it does not provide experts; we are expected to assemble the management.

Can we?

Photograph: Bhamy V. Shenoy