Launched in 2009, KWA’s in-house emergency repair team dies within 6 months, thanks to contractor-official nexus

Heralded as the emergency response team to plug leaks and deal with pipe bursts, Blue Brigade was launched in Kochi with much fanfare by the Water Authority in 2009. But it died perhaps within six months without even making a mark in the city.

Sources in KWA alleged that a powerful lobby of the contractors and allied with some senior officials had a role in the early death of the Blue Brigade. However, the official explanation is that KWA could not find sufficient staff to run the show.

So what plan does KWA have vis-à-vis an emergency? None, except that a contractor is called in for repairs. “And, since it is an emergency work, no procedures are followed,” said sources in KWA. Such work generally gets billed between Rs. 70,000 and Rs. 1 lakh.

Most of the contractors pay no heed to the small leaks reported in their works. They wait for the leaks to get bigger so that it is treated as an emergency work.

The Blue Brigade team headed by an Assistant Engineer had a squad of workers who were expected to work 24x7. The Blue Brigade’s functioning also came with a rider to the contractors. Leaks and bursts reported in a particular work had to be repaired by the contractor immediately. If the contractor failed to make repairs on time, Blue Brigade does the job but recovers the cost from the contractor.

The number 155313 was flaunted as the remedy for all water supply-related ills — be it leaks or thefts. An official told The Hindu that the number still functions. But no one picked the call even after giving it a call for at least 4 times.

The Blue Brigade van — painted white and blue — used to be parked at the Pallimukku office of the Water Authority for long. But when a series of protests came up, it was reportedly shunted to the managing director’s office in Thiruvananthapuram. The van, equipped with all kinds of tools, including generator and motor pump, had cost Rs. 11. 5 lakh.

If Thiruvananthapuram city, can have a the Blue Brigade why is it that Kochi cannot have such a facility?

Martin M. J., the district secretary of Water Authority Staff Association, told The Hindu that such a facility should be there at least in the corporation area. The official reason of not having enough staff is an excuse. It is the initiative of the higher official to designate staff for the work, he added.

With many service lines being as old as 40 years or more, an effective Blue Brigade could have served the people better by attending to the leaks and bursts that have become a norm in the city.

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