Agra: Nineteen years after many people died in a water tragedy that struck the Taj city, residents of Agra continue to battle water pollution in the Yamuna river and suffer health hazards caused by the municipal water supply.
On the morning of May 21, 1993, 21 people in Ghatia of the Khatik Pada area in Agra died after drinking water from municipal taps. A committee set up to investigate the deaths said the water was highly contaminated.
Subsequently, senior Congress party leaders who visited the city and the then Governor Moti Lal Vora promised jobs and financial support to the families of the victims.
"They had also promised a much-needed barrage on the Yamuna river and upgrading facilities at the two water works in the city. But not a single promise was fulfilled," says a resident of the Khatik Pada.
To highlight the grim situation in Agra, activists Monday organised a clean-up on the banks of the Yamuna in the city.
"We want the government to see the condition of the river and the water supplied by the Agra Water Works. Their lop-sided priorities are a matter of concern," Shravan Kumar Singh, convener of the Rivers of the World Foundation, said.
"Instead of safe drinking water for the people, they are discussing a new airport in the Agra region and a new Express Highway from Lucknow to Agra. These can wait but not adequate and safe water supply provision," Singh stressed.
The municipal water tanks in the city are in the most unhygienic condition as cleaning them is not a priority of the local bodies. "Often, dead bodies of animals have been found rotting in some tanks," said Pavan, an activist.
The Agra Water Works officials, however, say they are helpless as there is no fresh water in Yamuna. "We are only recycling and processing industrial effluents and sewer waste from upstream cities of Haryana and Delhi," said an official.
Agra`s water needs have increased with its population, but no new arrangement has been made to augment the water supply. "With the Yamuna Action Plan-1 (YAP-1) having flopped, focus is now on YAP-II with Japanese support," said a municipal official.
"The water tanks need urgent cleaning and repairs. To augment water availability in Yamuna more water from the Ganga and its canals should be released. Only additional release of water can flush out the pollutants," said Bankey Lal Maheshwari, chief of Sri Nathji Nishulk Jal Sewa that provides free water to the poor in the city.
"Perhaps they are waiting for another tragedy," wondered Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, an organisation demanding recognition of the Yamuna as a national heritage river.