Consistent water supply is still a dream for many parts of the city.

Time was when the drinking water supply system of Thiruvananthapuram was the stuff of song and legend. The dam at Aruvikkara, a robust filtering system at the Willingdon water works, pipes shipped in from London for distributing the ‘abundance,’ were readily associated with the city’s water supply. Old-timers who have lived in both Travancore and Kerala would even vouch for the refreshing taste of the city’s drinking water.

But ‘abundance’ was a long time ago. Even though the city has plenty of water at source and still has a treatment and distribution system to write home about, for thousands of people across the capital city drinking water still remains a pipe dream. While many parts of the city live by the ubiquitous tanker lorry, others make do with what little water the pipes are pleased to dispense daily. And there is simmering anger among the people against a system that is seen as being mismanaged, corrupt and unresponsive to their needs.

“I can afford to live without other comforts, but not even for a minute without water,” says Annie, retired headmistress of St John’s School, Vattiyoorkavu.

Standing at the portico of her house in Kelind Lane, Paruthipara, she points towards Muttada Holy Cross Church and says: “Every day I visit the church and one essential part of my plea to the almighty is to seek divine intervention in solving our water problem.”

Just a few buckets

Occasionally, the KWA supplies water in tankers. “Each household gets five to six buckets of water with which we will have to manage for two days. A family of three cannot make do with this much water,” she says.

For the past several years, she says, residents of the area have been left to fend for themselves, as flow of drinking water into the sump was meagre. “I have to spend Rs.625 every week from my monthly pension,” she adds. The situation in the nearby palliative care unit and a kindergarten is not different.

Just a few minutes walk down the road is Santhosh Nagar, where several houses on one side of the street have been left without water for months. One of the residents, Prakash, says every morning they walk to the nearby house to fetch water in buckets. “For cooking, washing utensils and other purposes we depend on the drinking water taps in the neighbour’s house. It could be an irritant to them but there is no other way as I can’t afford to pay for water supplied in tankers,” he says.

Severe crisis

Councillor of Kesavadasapuram, George Lewis, says people residing at Paruthipara, Muttada, LIC Lakshmi Nagar, LIC Kunnumppuram, areas adjoining Kesavadasapuram Junction, Jyothi Nagar and Pattom Planning Board junction complain about severe water crisis. “We staged a road blockade and petitioned the Managing Director (MD) of the KWA, but without any result.”

Mr. George says the higher-ups in the KWA are not properly briefed about the gravity of the situation by officers at the field level. “It’s high time the MD and other senior officers make surprise visits to these affected areas to get a first-hand account of the situation,” he says.

Unheard of in the past

Several of them who complained of water crisis are those who have switched to the new line. Manoj S., an entrepreneur who lives in his ancestral house near Kesevadasapuram Junction, says two years ago water problem was something which they have never heard about in their locality.

“The problem started after I switched to new connection. We are of the firm belief that the problem started after the contractors started diverting water from the new pipes to flats and hotels,” says Mr. Manoj.

Agreeing to this, Mr. George says the general view among the residents was that contractors make adjustments on the valves situated at Vaylikadavu, Kesavadasapuram, Ulloor and Pongamoodu so as to provide more water to flats and hotels that have recently come up.

A few kilometres away, Thulasidharan is readying for another summer. Last summer was spent cycling to the nearest community pump and lugging back containers filled with water. Not everyday, he says, but on most. While this picture is more suggestive of a rural backdrop, it is in fact a reality within the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation limits.

He lives at Kodikunnil, near Sreekariyam, where water flows scarce and complaints fall on deaf ears.

Issues of annexed wards

Almost four years after suburban panchayat regions were merged with the Corporation, their drinking water issues remain woefully unattended. While the water supply network in most parts was laid by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), residents say that they are yet to benefit from it because they have not received domestic connections from the Kerala Water Authority.

Hopes are raised when the road is dug up for laying pipes, but we end up disappointed as taps continue to run dry and road remains ruined, says Mr. Thulasidharan, referring to the narrow byroads that lead to his house.

Barely a couple of kilometres away lives Ramachandran Nair, now retired but hardly at peace as civic issues in his locality keeps him preoccupied, with drinking water scarcity remaining the top concern on his list. He is particularly worried about a colony near Njandoorkonam, Ambedkar Nagar, where around 70 families live without domestic connections. Aruvikkarakonam, near Pothencode here, is another water-starved region at the periphery.

There is inordinate delay in granting water connection to these houses though this zone under the JICA-assisted project was commissioned a couple of years ago, he says.

Other options

If the abandoned quarries in the area can be scientifically developed, water scarcity issues can be solved to an extent, he says.

“The Kalladichivila quarry is perfect for this,” he says, pointing out the irony that the houses around the quarry face water scarcity even though they live near a rich water source. The people nearby are yet to tap the full potential of the water-filled quarry. This quarry was the subject of much debate in 2012 when the State government considered using it as a garbage disposal site. “The people opposed it as they feared that the groundwater aquifers would be polluted,” he says.

Councillor A. Vinod has already taken up this project to be included in the civic body’s annual budget as a majority of the population, including himself, he says, does not have access to a consistent water supply.

‘Conditional’

He says that after the pipelines were laid, the KWA officials warned the residents that their connections are ‘conditional,’ even after they paying for it. “When you pay for a domestic connection, it is not for an erratic supply. The KWA officials told us that we might or might not get water,” he says.

Chengottukonam, Mangattukonam and Pattari are the locations from where he gets most complaints. He says he has also pushed for the renovation of a pond at Maruppankodu, near Andoorkonam, before summer sets in.

With so many complaints about large, city-wide water-supply schemes, there is a greater demand for implementing ‘micro-schemes.’ A retired Corporation employee says there were already a few success stories that entailed the installation of one overhead tank and public pumps.

“It involves community management and participation,” he says, referring to a project at Venganoor, where the groundwater source is rich given its proximity to the Vellayani Lake. Another similar project is nearing completion at Povankuzhy, near Pullukode.

“So for this year’s plan fund, we have suggested these micro-schemes that can be implemented for less than Rs.20 lakh each at Kodikunnil, Thripathapuram, Chengottukonam and Powdikonam,” he says.