Owners allege highhandedness by health authorities, police

Taking exception to what they allege as highhandedness on the part of health authorities resulting in the seizure of vehicles and arrest of their drivers, the Ernakulam District Drinking Water Welfare Association on Wednesday suspended the operation of 400-odd tanker lorries supplying drinking water in the district.

Alleging that even empty vehicles were being seized by the police at the direction of health authorities, the association called for the intervention of the District Collector for a solution before the service is restored.

Eight tanker lorries were stopped by the City Police from Thrikkakara on Wednesday, the first day of drive against erring tanker lorries.

“Samples of water from the lorries were sent to laboratory for checking,” said a senior official of the City Police. However, he could not explain what were the criteria employed for stopping tanker lorries. As of now, they are stopped on suspicion and water samples are collected.

Describing the regulations imposed by the district administration on the operation of tanker lorry operators in the wake of the outbreak of water-borne diseases as draconian, an association office-bearer challenged the authorities to find an alternative to the nearly 2,000 loads of water supplied in the district a day by tanker lorries. “We supply 6,000 litres for as little as ten paise a litre and 12,000 litre for eight paise per litre whereas a litre of bottled water is priced at Rs. 15. So you can calculate what will be the cost incurred by people if we stop supplying water,” he said.

The association said that the decision not to allow tanker lorries to operate after 10 p.m. would effectively restrict their operation in the city to two hours in the evening between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. as traffic police don't allow tanker lorries within the city limits between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The two-hour period is adequate enough for a tanker to operate only a single trip instead of about four trips usually operated, thus creating severe shortage of water. A similar two-hour period between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. would not be sufficient to meet the demand.

Claiming that the quality of water they source from wells in Kalamassery is good, the association alleged that the Kerala Water Authority is to be blamed for the outbreak of water-borne diseases reported mainly from West Kochi, where the operation of tanker lorries is very limited.

The association alleged that the crackdown on tanker lorries was without reason, as no complaints had been lodged by the consumers against them. “We will not say a word if a tanker lorry operator is taken into custody on the basis of a complaint by consumers about the water quality.” Pooh-poohing the collector's announcement that water could be taken from the four reservoirs of the Kerala Water Authority, the association said that it would not be enough to fill even a couple of tankers. If the KWA had so much of water, then people would not have sought our service in the first place, the office-bearer said.

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