Meghalaya has always prided itself on its distilled water streaming from the crystal clear mountain streams and springs in the middle of pristine forests. However, over the past three years, the state’s public health engineering department has been receiving many complaints and anger about the poor quality of the water being supplied to the citizens of Shillong. The filing of a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) and an “own motion” by the Meghalaya High Court indicate how urgent the matter at hand is.
The issue is that rivers are being polluted by uncontrolled sand mining, quarrying, fast urbanisation, and other “developmental” activities in this sloping state’s ecologically sensitive areas. Therefore, triggering wear and tear in water quality admitted by the Meghalaya State Assembly Committee on Environment. Due to soil and other particles’ heavy presence in what used to be pure rivers and springs, the high turbidity implies that more chemicals need to be used to make the water suitable for drinking.
In the wake of this issue, many citizens have taken their steps to keep themselves and their family safe by buying water purifier from popular brands such as Kent and Aquaguard who are leading manufacturers of water purifiers in India.
Where Does The City Get Its Water From?
PHE has several plans providing drinking water to the 3,54,759 individuals (2011 Census) in the Shillong Urban Agglomeration area. The primary one who feeds over 50% of the capital’s population is the GSWSS. The GSWSS sources its water from the Umiew river at Mawphlang, about 25 km from the city where the water treatment plant and tank lie. The Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) that has served the Shillong Municipal area alone has its own network and water resources but has recently been sharing its water resources with the GSWSS, causing the water resource to dry up faster.
SMB uses seven springs, a stream (Umjasai) as its water sources. All of these water bodies lie in the Shillong Peak protected range forest. However, deforestation has devastated these sources of water, state SMB authorities. The SMB is making efforts to revitalise its water sources with the state forest department’s help, but with little success so far.
The Meghalaya Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment led by the SMB’s chairman, S K Sun, MLA, which had checked the reservoirs and treatment plants at Mawphlang on June 25th discovered that the city has a significant problem of both water quality and quantity. With six MLAs as members, the panel was set up by a resolution of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly last year to go into growing problems of ecological degradation.
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What’s wrong with the water?
Officials at the Mawphlang water treatment plant informed the visiting panel that when water turbidity boosts, specifically now during the rainy season, many chemicals like aluminium sulphate and hydrated lime needed to be utilised to control the pH level of water and ensure effective filtering. Aluminium works as a coagulant which binds all the suspended particles in raw water into swellings that are quickly removed by purification and settling. Hydrated Lime adjusts the pH level.
According to submissions to the High Court, last November by the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board, which belongs of the specialist panel constituted by the primary engineer of the PHE, the high alum content in the water often winds up making the water oily. The Public Health Engineering Department and other state water authorities such as the SMB and Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board were called to court in the wake of the complaints raised by the Khasi National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) and a few other organisations. These organisation raised complaints on the infected water coming out of the PHE Taps.
Other organisations, such as the State Development Reforms Commission (SDRC), Societal Action Against Human Trafficking, Drug Abuse and Social Problems, Civil Society Women’s Organisation, All Meghalaya Industrial Worker’s Union have raised similar issues at different times. These organisations have tried to raise a CBI query to check for corruption in the PHE who have been accused of the water issues currently occurring in the state.
Getting to the root of the problem
Meanwhile, S K Sun, who was earlier chief engineer of PHE prior to he was chosen to the Assembly in 2018, said unless the catchment areas including about 115 sq km are safeguarded, the GSWSS project on which the capital depends for its drinking water is in danger of becoming redundant. Sun told us that he would suggest to the State Government that the location be stated a safeguarded zone under the National Wetlands Policy, as there was no other method to make people comprehend the importance of saving the catchment areas and offering alternative incomes to individuals now depending on sand mining and stone quarrying.
According to main sources in the Divisional Forest Officer workplace, East Khasi Hills, there are more than 100 quarries in the district and about a lot in the said catchment area. Together with the Mining and Geology department, the forest department regulates these activities and holds obligation for enforcing the Meghalaya Minor Minerals Concession Rules, 2016. Under these guidelines, all sand or stone miners must take authorisation from the forest department before a mining permit is allotted. At present, all the quarries have been closed down as part of the forest department’s efforts to manage quarrying activity much better. The State Government imposes a royalty on small minerals generated from quarrying, earning Rs 8,10,77,823 from this in 2017-18.
Other Meghalaya News:
- Police reveal detailed report on Motphran Clash
- Dominic Sangma’s MA•AMA is Meghalaya’s first film to be selected in Intl. competition of Jio MAMI 2018
- Meghalaya set to donate Rs 1 crore for Kerala Flood Relief
- Leading by example, IAS officer Arunkumar Kembhavi comes up with solution to beat Shillong traffic
- Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma to donate one month’s salary to adopt school in interior Meghalaya
But this is of little convenience to consumers who are concerned about the possible unfavourable health results of greater dosages of alum in the water. One member of the Sun Panel, H M Shangpliang, MLA, asked the PHE if any other water purification technology they could utilise instead of alum. But the only option PHE could use to use a substitute anti-coagulant chemical known as poly aluminium chloride.
The chief engineer of PHE, K. D. Talukdar, asked about the poor water quality stated while earlier the treatment plant had only one clariflocculator. It now has 2 to manage the muddy water throughout the monsoon season and ensure that just the right dosage of alum is used. “The alum itself is filtrated out of the water,” said Talukdar. However the long-lasting solution, he admits, would be getting raw water that is less turbid, which does not look possible in the near or far future.