Despite the “routine inspections” by civic body officials, the Antulay Nagar Leprosy Colony in Pune with around 3,000 residents, many of whom are leprosy survivors with disabilities, continues to reel under drinking water crisis, thanks to irregular water supply and low pressure in the common taps.
Leprosy survivors at the colony in Yewalewadi village have been demanding a tap connection at each home instead of common taps as it is challenging for individuals without limbs or those with numb fingers to move around with buckets for fetching water.
They alleged that despite Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) inspection last month and “corrective measures” taken to alleviate the problem, the situation has only worsened on the ground.
In a press conference on Monday, the residents said that to make matters worse the officials have reduced the number of taps on each lane, replaced one-inch taps with half-inch ones, and reduced the tap height.
Pannalal Nikam, a community head who has been staying in the colony for around 50 years with his family members, said that the field workers are misleading the PMC higher-ups. “After we demanded higher water pressure in taps to the PMC, the local staff came and reduced the height of the tap and fitted a half-inch tap for around six people,” he pointed out.
Residents said that after they contacted senior PMC officials they found the civic body’s local staffers had given wrong information to the authorities that taps were installed at a lower height as per the residents’ requests.
Nikam asked, “How do six disabled people get water from just a half-inch tap which is installed at such a low height? Due to the low height, we can’t even put a water bucket under it.”
People have also complained that the unpredictability of the arrival of water is causing additional challenges in their daily lives. “There is no fixed timing for the water, as people would have to line up before the taps as early as 4 am. Having a tap at home would make life easier, said Kalpana Ajane, a labourer’s wife and mother of a one-year-old boy, recounting the incident where her son was badly injured in a fall while she was out fetching water.
In another incident in April this year, a child in the colony fell into a well and died.
Another resident, Ramesh Nandanwar, who has physical deformities, said that water pressure is satisfactory only when PMC officials come for a visit.
“They record videos and take photos to demonstrate good water supply while, on regular days experience, we receive low pressure. They claim that we receive 2 hours of water when it’s actually only 1 hour,” said the 55-year-old.
Satish Sawant, the president of an NGO ‘Apang Leprosy Punarvasan Va Yuvak Sangathan Antulay Nagar’, said the irony lies when all residents dutifully pay their annual property tax, which includes the water supply charges of around Rs 2,100. “Yet, they are not receiving the benefit of having a tap in each home,” he criticised.
Nitin Khude, PMC’s deputy engineer, refuted the allegation saying that the residents, as per his report, do not pay the tax and the corporation has initiated the construction of installing a 1000-litre water tank in each lane of the colony. He also claimed that the residents had made a request for decreasing the tap’s height.
“Since water scarcity is a big problem in that region, providing taps in every home is a challenge. We will finish the installation of the PVC water tank within a few days, and we have also enhanced the water supply pressure,” Khude said.
Vidnan Gaikwad, a PMC official, justified the current tap height, which is based on the water pressure and claimed that the timing of the water supply is also adequate.
“The pipeline connection in this area is 2 inches, and if we raise the height, it might disrupt water flow. Currently, there are sufficient connections for them and we will be on hand to address any issues that may arise,” he added.
Sawant asked if installing water tanks in every lane would truly solve the problem of fetching water for individuals with disabilities. “Where is Har Ghar Jal Mission which aims to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in India?” he lashed out.
“I stress the importance of inclusivity in our society. We should treat everyone with equality. Leprosy patients have endured years of discrimination. It’s our responsibility to restore their dignity,” he added.
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