Whether you are in South Delhi’s posh Defence Colony, in a DDA colony abutting the Barapullah drain, one of the many colonies lining the Najafgarh drain or in Noida’s buzzing Sector 18, you can’t avoid the foul smell emanating from open drains carrying sewage.
The uncovered drains not only stink, they also endanger public health and the environment. And with roughly 50 per cent of all drains being uncovered, the problem is huge.
But this was not always the case, according to Manoj Misra of non-government organisation Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.
“These drains were the original tributaries of the Yamuna. They were a part of the natural drainage system of the city. The open drains were never meant to carry waste water, but rapid expansion and inadequate planning made improvised sewers out of them.”
Apart from the environmental damage, the drains are giving NCR residents another reason to complain. Gases emitted by the drains corrode pipes in air-conditioners, refrigerators and television, making gas leaks a frequent problem. Those who live near the drains are forced to spend thousands of rupees every year for refilling the gas.
Rohit Dhawan, an Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi qualified electrical engineer who lives next to the Defence Colony nallah, noted: “When organic matter decays, it lets off gases. These are methane and sulphur dioxide, which have a rotten egg smell. Sulphur dioxide forms sulphuric acid when it comes in contact with water or moisture. It is this sulphuric acid that corrodes the copper in ACs and TVs.”
Mr. Dhawan further explained: “ACs have copper pipes in the cooling section through which the coolant passes. The sulphuric acid corrodes these pipes. It can be observed as the black covering on the cooling pipes. Similarly, all the circuits in electronic equipment are of copper. These get corroded and lead to malfunctions.”
Pooja Chandok, a resident of Sector 40 in Noida, said it was only when her family moved to Noida, where she lives close to a large open drain, that she became aware of the problem. “We had lived in other parts of Delhi, but never had to refill the gas in our ACs every year until we came to Noida. Every year, we have to spend about Rs.10,000 on getting gas filled — it costs around Rs.2,000 per AC.”
Uday Kumar, an electrical repairman in Noida, said the average life-span for a gas refill is three months. The intensity of the gases emitted by the drains makes a brand new copper pipe show signs of corrosion within a month. But he is not complaining, for it gets him work.
On the other hand, Meenakshi Oberoi, a resident of Noida Sector 25, is fed up with her recurring expenditure on air-conditioner upkeep. The large open drain behind her house means the ACs in her house need gas refills every other year. But she has made a deft move and “switched to non-branded ones because they work a little better in Noida”.
With increasing competition, residents have discovered that white-goods manufacturers had, in order to cut prices, compromised on quality too.
“In the last 10 years, many manufacturers started using thinner cooling pipes. This has resulted in their faster corrosion. Corrosion will occur, but the period between breakdowns/leakages can be increased by using thicker pipes in the ACs,” explained Mr. Dhawan.
As if the gas leaks weren’t bad enough, residents living in the vicinity of open drains are also having trouble in getting annual maintenance contracts (AMCs) for them.
A resident of Ambika Vihar in West Delhi, Anil Ahluwalia, said: “One authorised service franchisee did not give me an AMC for my AC for nearly three years. The reason given was that my house was near the Najafgarh drain and hence my AC was more prone to defects such as gas leaks.”
Mr. Ahluwalia said he has to pay the service centre visiting charges as well as bear other expenses without an AMC. “It costs me more as I need to get the gas filled twice a year. However, my relatives living in a colony nearby don’t face any such problem as their home is away from the drain.”
Meanwhile, Sameer Bhandari of utility services said a franchisee cannot refuse to do an AMC. “We might charge extra in the Vikaspuri belt, which includes areas of Paschim Vihar and Vikaspuri near the drain, including Ambika Vihar. If the AMC for a one-and-half tonne window AC costs Rs. 2,000 plus taxes in other areas, in these areas it would be R. 3,000 plus taxes. This includes any spare parts plus gas.”
Agreeing, Ms. Chandok said AMCs in Noida are more expensive than other areas due to the frequent gas leaks. “One company had started a five-year AMC scheme, so many of us bought their product. But they soon realised that this was not cost-effective and discontinued the scheme.”
Dealing with the nallahs of the National Capital Region, as even AC manufacturers have realised, is a losing proposition.