Agra region battles water, power woes

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS,

Agra : The city of the Taj Mahal is witnessing mass gatherings – not to view the 17th century marble wonder but to protest against the acute shortage of water and electricity.

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Despite billions of rupees invested in infrastructural development in the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone, spread over 10,000 sq km, the Uttar Pradesh districts of Agra, Mathura and Firozabad continue to face shortage of power and water.

May saw sporadic scenes of violence, citizen marches and sit-ins in different parts of Agra city by people demanding regular supply of water and electricity. In Mathura, questions were asked about the utility of the Gokul Barrage that has failed to meet the city’s water needs or help in raising the water table in the district.

The glass city of Firozabad continues to suffer long hours without power and water. Erratic power supply has hit production in the glass factories, said Ashok Mittal, a bangle manufacturer.

“The situation has worsened after the May 7 poll. Earlier the supply of power was fairly ok, perhaps to woo voters,” he said.

The power supply in Agra worsened after the Uttar Pradesh government decided to hand over the distribution to a private player, Torrent. The trade unions are opposing the move and putting all sorts of hurdles in the transfer of the system in Agra to the company. There are dharnas and protests almost daily. The state government has announced that it will stick to its decision.

On the water supply front, there are many contradictions in the state government’s stand and the view of activists and citizens’ groups. The Agra Water Works that the British established over a century ago is under tremendous pressure to meet the water needs of a growing city.

Agra Water Works General Manager Jawahar Ram said: “When there is no raw water in the river Yamuna, what can be done to ensure adequate water supply?”

The Yamuna river bed is dry. The trickle of a stream that flows in one part is sewage, effluents and all the waste flowing from Delhi and upstream cities. This liquid called water is recycled, chlorinated and bleached and pumped into the network of the city.

D.K. Joshi, an activist, told IANS: “The plans that they have of bringing Ganga Jal to Agra at an exorbitant cost Rs.1,200 crores (Rs.12 billion), as investment from the Japanese Bank, will go waste like earlier schemes.”

Joshi filed a petition in the Supreme Court 10 years ago and secured orders for Rs.10 billion investment in water supply and drainage infrastructure for Agra.

Joshi reeled out figures to show how billions of rupees had been squandered away without any meaningful or discernible results. He had demanded a CBI inquiry to identify elements that had siphoned away tonnes of public money.

Water in the Yamuna is a necessity to not only sustain human life in the city but also ensure the safety of the Mughal monuments including the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, not to mention other half a dozen buildings along the river banks, says Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma.

Mughal historian R. Nath has time and again urged the government to ensure there was sufficient water in the Yamuna for the safety of the Taj Mahal which without water in the river stands threatened.

“When Shah Jahan selected this particular site for constructing the Taj Mahal, it was the huge water body almost like a sea in the background. To run the fountains and green the lawns, Yamuna water was lifted to fill a tank which distributed water all over through a scientifically designed water network,” Nath told IANS on telephone from Ajmer.

Without water in the river, not only could the foundation of the marble wonder suffer damage but the tilt in the minarets could also increase, he added.

“Unless they desilt and dredge the river on a massive scale from Delhi to Agra the underground aquifers would not be charged and the water table will not rise. The storage capacity of the river can be increased only when silt and deposits of dirt are scooped out,” said environmentalist Ravi Singh.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])