The first thing that will strike a tourist in Manipur is the conspicuous absence of public hydrants and running water in all residences, hotels, hospitals and other establishments. Every morning, water is stored in the overhead tanks or containers in the hotels and hospitals. The Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) has made arrangements to deliver water to the Secretariat, offices of the Chief Minister, Raj Bhavan, residences of all Ministers, MLAs and high police and civil officials every morning.

The Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal, run by the Union government had a special water pipe laid out since a huge quantity of water is needed for the hospital, college, hostels and wards where a few thousands of patients are admitted. However, the Institute spends huge amounts daily in buying water from the water tankers. Hundreds of residents of the localities, through which the pipe meanders, have bored the pipe for tapping water. Although the holes were plugged sometime back, the residents have once again started boring the pipe with impunity.

Since there is no dependable water supply for domestic consumption, a family buys 500 litres of “potable” water for Rs. 100, which is home delivered by the ubiquitous water suppliers. The rate is higher for houses located a little further away. Containers of 1,000 and 500 litre capacities are installed in the station wagons, modified jeeps and auto rickshaws for delivering water to houses.

There are some PHED-controlled water holes from where the water suppliers fill the water tankers and containers. These are located at the Manipur University campus, Porompat, Chingarel and Iroishemba. A water supplier can collect 1,500 litres of water for Rs. 35. Each supplier has to pay Rs. 3,000 as annual fee to the officials.

Due to the ever-increasing demands from the PHED-controlled water holes, there is always a long queue and a driver has to spend long hours waiting for his turn. Alternately, an association had been formed by the water suppliers for drawing water from water holes which are not controlled by the PHED from which only the association members can collect water. A supplier can collect 1,500 litres of water from these private water holes for Rs. 50. The added advantage is that a supplier does not have to pay the annual fee of Rs. 3,000.

A water supplier pays Rs. 20 per trip of water delivery to the helper in the tanker. The driver, however, gets Rs. 2,500 as salary per month. After meeting the fuel and other expenses, a supplier can save around Rs. 150 per trip. The demand is so high that a supplier has to work from early morning till 11 p.m. Considering the brisk business, many of them buy another tanker within two to three years.

Health risks

Some unscrupulous suppliers have been drawing contaminated stagnant water from moats and other points, thereby posing a grave health risk to the unknowing consumers. A local cable channel had recently photographed some tankers drawing water from the dirty water holes full of empty bottles and domestic rubbishes. Since the suppliers were not pulled up, it is feared that this malpractice is continuing.

Highly placed PHED officials declined to provide convincing and coherent information about the absence of water pipes even in the capital areas and checking widespread illegal water tappings which results in huge revenue loss. It is a daily occurrence to find earthworms and other insects and unhygienic particles in the water pipes. These are sucked into the main pipes once the water flow, lasting about one hour daily, is stemmed. Painting a rosy picture, the officials claim that once some projects are commissioned, there will be no dearth of drinking water for the 26 lakh people in the State. But the bitter fact is that most of the projects had been unofficially abandoned while the progress of the remaining ones continues at a snail’s pace. Besides, water sources are drying up due to climate change and unbridled deforestations and the projects will be of little meaning to the people if they are commissioned at all.

Most of the citizens in the four valley districts depend on community ponds, rivers and rain water for drinking and other domestic purposes.

In the five mountainous districts, water is siphoned off from natural reservoirs at plateaus to the tribal villages through polythene pipes. Besides, there are springs in the mountains here and there. Water scarcity is so acute that devastating fires could not be doused by fire tenders because there was no water nearby. At areas that are hard to access, including Moreh town bordering Myanmar, people stick pouches of water on walls to extinguish fire immediately since it takes ages for the fire tenders to reach there and there is no water to speak of.

Demand for bottled water

There is an increasing demand for bottled water. A businessman had earned huge profits by manufacturing a brand of “mineral water” in the State. However, recently commissioner of Food Safety, Ram Muivah, banned the manufacture and sale of this brand as it was found out that it was a health hazard.

The Loktak Lake and rivers have become shallow because of siltage and dumping of rubbish, including domestic ones. Lakes and paddy fields are increasingly being filled up to construct houses in the State. One such lake is the Lousi, in Thoubal district, near the Myanmar border which is associated with Manipur’s history and legend

  • No water scarcity once some projects are commissioned: PHED

  • Fire tenders fail to douse flames due to water scarcity