This is the most suitable for the western districts or for the foothills of north Bengal. Rivers of interest are the Kansabati, Kumari, Silabati, Bandu, their tributaries and similar many in the Himalayan foothills. There is a need to build at least 100 such structures in the western districts. A river can be stopped by a wall (masonry or steel) upto say about 10 ft. height to create a pool of water within the river itself. If such walls are further raised it will inundate some surrounding areas also to create a bigger lake. A series of such structures can be built on a river. However, hydraulic failure of the structure because of unknown porosity around the structure (causing leakage of water) is a point of concern. Proper maintenance through regular desilting of lakes, prevention of vector borne diseases like malaria and other measures have to be an integral part of any work causing impoundment of water.
Monsoon excess flow of water is to be diverted away from a river – while in spate - by gravity, for collection in natural – but mostly constructed- depressions near the river. NREGA convergence is essential and participation of P&RDD in the matter of land acquisition is vital for success in all types of source creation. Structures can also be built in suitable terrains to act both as a check dam in the summers, a contour bund in the monsoons and also as a diversion structure active in the peak monsoons.
There are many ponds in the arid regions which run dry almost throughout the year. These need to be developed by watershed management. This is basically an arrangement to increase the area of catchment, which may be to construct a ring ‘aal’’ at a distance from the pond. There needs to be some open unencumbered area around the pond. The pond may also be lined by brick or mud to reduce seepage. At least 5000 ponds may qualify for such action in the water - scarce districts.
In most rivers where the bed is composed of sand of some reasonable thickness, there will be some water moving within the sand bed, even if water is not showing at the top, as is the case of most rivers except those in the southern part of south Bengal. It is an established practice with the PHE directorate to abstract this water by various structures. River bed vertical tubewells are the easiest to install. They pierce the sand and draw water only from within the saturated bed. But these tubewells are prone to damage due to impact from floating debris like tree trunks in the floods. Horizontal strainers (“infiltration galleries”) under the bed are more durable and draw more volume of water per unit length of strainer. They should be preferred over vertical tubewells in most cases in spite of higher initial cost.
The collector well once was a structure of choice for all the large schemes. The disadvantages are high cost per unit volume of water, expertise required in design and construction and time taken for implementation. Above infiltration galleries will always be a better option in such cases.
Though it should be the long- term objective of a state to move away from sole use of ground water and to prefer conjunctive use with surface water, there will be occasions when use of groundwater will become unavoidable due to techno-economic considerations. But conventional tubewells, big dia. or small, are not truly sustainable structures. The time - tested shallow aquifer ring wells common in villages, where lifting is made by rope and bucket, must be additionally explored in suitable areas where groundwater quality is right. Conventional pumps or windmills may be deployed for lifting.
Groundwater contamination due to arsenic, fluorides, iron and salinity is common in West Bengal. The removal techniques are expensive to operate. It is necessary to study availability of cheaper and sustainable technologies. There have been thorough studies on arsenic removal, and fluoride removal techniques are also progressing to finalization. Standard techniques are already available for iron removal. Salinity is a more difficult proposition, however, to handle. The main options may be reverse osmosis for small to large schemes and various strains of thermal distillation for very large schemes. Sea water has to be sourced in the near future for big schemes in the coastal areas. Innovative techniques and contracting models will have to be roped in.
It is a popular option in both the excess rainfall areas and the scanty rainfall areas outside of West Bengal. In this state it has been tried in good numbers only in the hills of Darjeeling. The main reason it has not been tried in large scale in the arid districts is the availability of some kind of a source, however rudimentary or quality- affected they may be; and the emphasis of the Govt. departments on creating conventional sources only. Such structures can be used both for human consumption and recharge of the groundwater. But they are also vulnerable to quality as long term storages are involved. Per capita cost is also higher than conventional modes. Sufficient care must also be taken in not contaminating an aquifer when recharging is done using rain water.
The last but not the least, the most comprehensive and sustainable system is going to be the State Water Grid and should find a place in the State Water Policy, as in some states. Though it is something that is still some years away, the time for advance planning is already upon the departments. This grid will serve the areas which are predominantly tubewell dependent or where surface sources cannot be conveniently created. Agricultural demand will increase with time and a considerable part of it will continue to be satisfied by groundwater because of absence or creation of alternative sources. Rainwater alone has not been able to sustain paddy cultivation, particularly Boro. Alternative cropping, changing agricultural calendar, and other palliative measures will hopefully be introduced gradually by the agricultural sector, but not sufficiently to prevent escalation of groundwater use. It is therefore necessary to isolate domestic demand from groundwater sources.
This grid may be a large dia. pipe network drawing water from various large sources like the Farakka Barrage, Teesta Barrage, Mahananda Barrage, DVC and the others. Domestic and industrial demand shall have to be satisfied by this grid and for which a 75 years’ time horizon may be contemplated. This is similar to inter- basin water transfer but with lower hazards. The downside is power consumption and renewable energy may be a valid parallel option. The capital cost will be high and sharing of industrial and domestic demands will make it more cost efficient.
The P.H.E. Department has decided that solar power will be deployed for running piped water supply schemes wherever feasible as grid electricity consumes depleting natural resources and should be avoided. Amongst different renewable energy options, solar power stands out as the most available and viable alternative. The initial cost is somewhat higher than obtaining service connection from grid power departments for small schemes, but it has the advantage of being available everywhere and the cost pays out in a few years as very little operation & maintenance costs are involved.
However, this technology is based on solar chips which are mostly imported from abroad. Thus, the availability of quality power producing units in a big number is an issue. But it is expected that the production capacity of the national manufacturers will improve as Govt. of India has provided various facilities to the manufacturers.
Wind power, though it is a feasible alternative, is still at infancy in India because of the various operational problems associated with wind turbines. Ideally, wind turbines are the most suitable for the coastal regions because of the high wind velocity available. Combined with solar, the wind power should be the ideal source of power because power supply can be maintained all through the day and night which may be crucial in some applications.
Ground water in most of West Bengal is affected by contamination such as arsenic, fluoride, salinity and iron, apart from microbial contamination, which is induced by a temporary contamination. The menace of arsenic contamination is getting under control and the state is likely to become arsenic free in another couple of years. Some action for fluoride areas was taken in the past and schemes implemented in several districts. Recently, following a GoI guideline, PHED has been laying a greater emphasis on fluoride contamination by planning more and more piped water supply schemes most of which will start getting implemented in the middle of the next financial year. Salinity similarly is another issue which is difficult to get rid of in an economical manner particularly where fresh water is not available in the nature.
For removal of arsenic, fluoride and salinity, treatment of raw water before supplying to the community is a common option. Such treatment is not sustainable in terms of cost but the issue being drinking water the state has to opt for the same in many areas.
Associated with treatment comes the management of the hazardous waste which comes as a by-product of treatment and which are slightly to extremely harmful for the environment. Arsenic sludge that is generated by an arsenic removal plant, fluoride treatment process and reverse osmosis plant rejects; all discharge hazardous wastes. These wastes have to be managed in a cost effective and time proven manner. The PHE Dept. has approved one environment-friendly arsenic treatment technique which will discharge no waste to the environment for a very long time. Such, and other innovations will add incremental steps to environment preservation and combating climate change.
The river water management plans such as Ganga Action Plan, Damodar Action Plan or the Mahananda Action Plan should provide against malfunction of treatment plants which allow untreated or undertreated wastes to flow back into the river and cause pollution. Similarly, effluent from the waste water treatment plants should not be discharged into the water bodies or rivers indiscriminately and strict monitoring mechanism should be in place.
No amount of water supply can be expected to fulfill the requirement of reducing the disease burden and increase in productivity unless quality of water is ensured. Presently, the PHE Department has about 118 water quality laboratories and the number of which is increasing with time. Out of 118, 80 are managed by the NGOs and the rest by PHE Department. For the PHE labs, the job has been outsourced to contractors who pay for the staff and receive due considerations from the directorate. The operations of the labs have been badly hit due to the continual absence of nearly half of the sample collectors, reportedly due to the unattractive remunerations fixed by the P&RDD. It is apparent that the tripartite programme of WQM&S run conjointly by the PHED, P&RDD and H&FW has not yet been a success. To introduce accountability, the nodal department PHED should be entrusted with the WQM&SP.
The surveillance of spot sources is expected to be carried out by the Panchayat& Rural Development Department, Govt. of West Bengal under the National Rural Drinking Water Programme guidelines published in April, 2009. There are monitoring units run both by the P&RDD and the PHED under UNICEF assistance. These units continually report microbial contamination in the spot sources in the villages; but the remedial actions, for which the P&RDD remains responsible, remain largely unaddressed though the PHED has placed the Sub-Asstt. Engineer, Mechanic and the Helper of each block with the BDOs. But water quality is the mandate for the PHED, which still remains answerable and people have high expectations from this department. If surveillance is to be managed by the PHED, it would be impossible to do so under the normal organizational setup. Some regional cells should be opened for controlling the monitoring and surveillance activities. The surveillance and monitoring of water quality should also have specific indicators related to health and nutritional status of the communities along the food safety parameters related to water quality. The cost may be entirely met out of the Support Fund of the GoI.
The PHE Department had some years back set up a Communication & Capacity Development Unit (CCDU). After the NRDWP was launched, the State Water & Sanitation Support Organisation (SWSSO) has been set up under the State Water & Sanitation Mission (SWSM) which is an umbrella organization comprising of all the stakeholder departments.
Handing over the decision making power to the community is the central theme running through the NRDWP guidelines. To be effective, the Village Water & Sanitation Committees (VWSC) are to be formed under District Water & Sanitation Mission (DWSM). Such formations have to be facilitated and guided by the SWSSO. The department has fallen behind and the work shall have to be started on war footing. Strengthening of the SWSSO by more appropriate technical personnel is necessary.
Officials and staff have to be trained both in the matter of engineering and administration to introduce a strong work culture and delivery of benefits of water supply. This may be through the SWSSO. Participation of more officers in Master of Engineering courses, foreign seminars and trainings, research and development must be encouraged.
The PHE Department has always been the first to move to the troubled spots in the events of disasters like drought, cyclone and flood. Such spirited participation is made in spite of the perennial shortage of officials and fund for such works. But to add teeth to the action, a disaster management cell has to be opened under the PHE Department headed by a chief engineer for managing disasters where water supply is a vital curative tool.
Unlike other commodities (like electricity), theft of water is still not regarded as a crime. Schemes after schemes are failing to deliver because of water theft which naturally was not budgeted for. Such thefts come in the shape of illegal water connection for drawing water into the premises which can be a dwelling unit or a commercial establishment. Such water is free and the quantum high as no house connection or usage charges is paid. In the past, the PHED had attempted to cut illegal connections but were faced with law and order situations resisting such disconnections. The police claim helplessness as laws to apprehend the wrongdoers do not exist. It is necessary to frame up acts and rules to prevent water theft.
The directorate is running short of officers and staff for many years. This has silently taken a heavy toll on output, work quality and cost economy. A thorough reorientation of the organizational structure with filling of posts is necessary. Promotion policies should take into account proper engineering education as the backbone of policies on personnel. Meritocracy should replace mediocracy.
The PHED has to implement works of about Rs. 21,125.00 crore in the next 9 years. A complete overhaul of the organizational structure is necessary. Foreign assistance, soft term lending, alternative contracting models, etc. that may have to be engaged will be achieved if the department is recast as a Board or similar institution, with complete autonomy on personnel, fund generation models and related policies.
Though it is stating the obvious, schemes must be implemented fast. The problems faced with land acquisition, electricity connection and timely funding delay schemes. Land may be allowed to be directly procured at market rates. The administrative stumbling blocks must be removed and task forces formed to get pending matters moving without any loss of time. Inter departmental co ordination leaves much to be desired and must be enhanced. Top level decisions in engineering and scientific matters must be left to the relevant professionals.
Providing safe and sustainable drinking water to schools all over West Bengal is another important sector where due attention is required and ensuring sustained drinking water supply in all rural schools is one of the important compliance that State Government is expected under the Right to Education Act, 2009. This would require very close monitoring of access, functioning of water source, its timely operation and maintenance and water quality of the source. There are over 90,000+ schools in rural areas that include primary, high schools, ShishuShiksha Kendra etc. PHED to consider having a dedicated cell and officer to coordinate and ensure water supply to all schools and related monitoring. This cell should be headed by senior official at least of the Executive Engineer rank.