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Civic apathy stalls water supply project

MUMBAI One of the city's most ambitious water supply projects, the Middle Vaitarna, has been stuck for the past six months due to the alleged lack of interest shown by top-level officials in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), sources in the civic water works department said. As a result, a crucial meeting called by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in Delhi on May 7 to give clearance to this important project is now likely to be postponed to June end mainly because of the lackadaisical attitude of the BMC's top brass, sources added.

The Middle Vaitarna project is extremely crucial for the city, given its ever-increasing demand for water. It will supply an additional 455 million litres a day to the city's growing population. It is estimated to cost over Rs 800 crore and will take at least five to six years to be completed.

But the project has still not received the green signal and is awaiting a host of environmental clearances. Sources said that the then additional municipal commissioner (projects) Subodh Kumar had to put the entire project on track before he was transferred in November last.

"Since then, his successor Vidyadhar Kanade has not pursued it with sufficient vigour," a senior engineer in the water works department told TNN. Mr Kanade, when contacted by this newspaper, refused to comment on this allegation.

"The BMC had sought environmental clearance from the Shahapur forest department in Thane district. They raised some queries and we answered them satisfactorily. Yet, the forest department has been simply sitting on the file since the past two months. But what is more surprising is that the BMC top brass is not showing any interest in pursuing the matter with the forest department," the engineer alleged.

"We were assured that if the necessary clearances were given bv the local forest department, the MoEF would take little time in clearing the project. The ministry will now postpone the meeting, he claimed. The ecological and environmental impact studies have already been completed.

The project involves construction of a 300-foot tall dam on the Vaitarna river located in a forest area. From the river, the water will be brought down to lower Vaitarna. From there, a 7-kin tunnel will be laid and another 35-krn long pipeline will bring the water upto the Bhandup water complex.

At present, Mumbai receives about 2,900 million litres of water a day while the actual demand is for 3,500 million litres. The unaccounted demand for water is as high as 35 per cent and the BMC wants to reduce it to at least 20 per cent.

A source said the Middle Vaitarna project could be financed by the BMC itself instead of approaching the World Bank for funds. Despite a civic deficit, the BMC has sufficient funds in its G-budget, which is meant only for financing water works. "It is a self-sustaining budget with a reserve of about Rs 1,200 crore," the source said.

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