It is a choked, overflowing and disowned manhole that has emerged as the cause of water contamination that lead to two deaths and scores of people falling ill in South Delhi’s National Council of Educational, Research and Training (NCERT) campus.

On Thursday, the Delhi Jal Board, the utility that supplies water to the area and is responsible for the maintenance of the city’s sewerage system, and the Central Public Works Department, which is responsible for water supply inside the campus, traded charges.

While both the agencies agree that it is the choked manhole just outside the periphery of the campus on Aurobindo Marg which is responsible for contaminating the potable water, none of them are willing to accept its ownership. They also had divergent views on whether remedial action has been taken at all.

The Jal Board disputed the CPWD’s claims that it has “unblocked the manhole” and “changed its supply pipelines”. The CPWD on the other hand maintained that Jal Board is still unable to provide clean water and that its underground storage is still receiving “yellow, dirty water”.

“The cause of contamination is a manhole, outside the campus. The Jal Board claims it is ours, but we are not responsible for the maintenance of the infrastructure outside the campus. But in the interest of the public and owing to the seriousness of the problem, we got the manhole unblocked, changed the service pipelines inside and cleaned the underground storage. Our staff has, however, informed us that water being supplied is still dirty and it is the same in the adjoining campus of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration as well,” said a CPWD official. In its findings, the CPWD has said there was a backflow of sewage because of the choked manhole and that resulted in blocking of all the sewerage lines inside the campus. “The contamination occurred near the Type I quarters. We have now changed the pipelines there and water is being provided through tankers,” the official said.

The CPWD claimed it had notified the Jal Board months ago about the poor water quality. “On getting reports of dirty water, CPWD cleaned the water tank and also informed the NCERT to arrange water from water tankers, but no action was taken,” the official said, adding, “We are not completely ruling out negligence on our end. We have already taken action against the assistant engineer and the junior engineer in charge of the NCERT campus, they have both been shifted.”

The DJB is, however, steadfast that the manhole does not come under its jurisdiction and the CPWD was responsible for its maintenance. “It has been established that the manhole was their [CPWD’s] responsibility and that the contamination occurred because the staff has not been conversant with the system. The whole set up is not being maintained as it should be,” said a DJB official.

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