Hampered by inadequate manpower, lack of statutory power

Amid widespread apprehensions over the quality of water supplied through an estimated 400 tanker lorries in the district, the Groundwater Department remains a mute spectator thanks to the lack of statutory authority and adequate manpower.

Sources told The Hindu that the department has no mechanism either to monitor and test the sources from which water is collected by tanker lorry operators or to take punitive action if the water supplied is found to be unfit for consumption. In short, the department is in the dark about the sources of water supplied to houses and flats by the tankers.

The department's permission is necessary for collecting water for industrial and infrastructure-related purposes; but, when it comes to collecting water for domestic use, no permission is required.

Ideally, the sources of water should be registered with the department so that they could be inspected periodically by experts. “But that will not guarantee that tanker lorries will collect water from these sources only. That calls for a mechanism to test samples from lorries at some stage before the supply or else buyers should have facilities to test it before taking delivery,” a department official said. Strict action should also be taken against those who supply low-quality water, he said. However, giving more teeth to the department would be futile without strengthening it with more manpower.

At present, the Groundwater department is required to collect and test water samples whenever directions come from the district administration following breakout of water-borne diseases.

While registration of 1.5-hp water pump sets with the department is mandatory, that would not in any way ensure supply of quality water. For, such pump sets could accumulate enough water in an hour to fill a tanker that could be supplied among unsuspecting consumers without any quality check.

Department sources said that open and bore wells are the main sources of tanker lorries. Indiscriminate pumping from open wells leading to alarming drop in water level could result in drawing impurities from surrounding areas including from septic tanks and fertilizers in farm lands. Higher the acceleration of pumping, larger will be the area from which such impurities will be drawn into the well.

Unscientifically constructed bore wells on the other hand could lead to exploitation of surface water instead of ground water.

Indiscriminate use of a bore well could result in steep fall in the water level of bore wells in the neighbourhood, sources said.

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