HYDERABAD: As the shortage of drinking water and its contamination woes in Hyderabad remain interminably prevalent, the Sindh High Court (SHC) has yet again summoned provincial secretaries to come up with a road map to resolve the predicament. A bench comprising Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry also directed on Thursday the Hyderabad division commissioner to probe 'criminal negligence' on the part of Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) over scant chlorination.
The bench was shocked to learn that chlorination was completely abandoned from 2014 to 2016, according to a report submitted by WASA. Following the intervention of the water commission, which ordered the resumption of the chlorination process, WASA utilised in 2017-18 a total of 11,115 metric tons of chlorine at old and new filtration plants on Jamshoro Road, 6,300 at Hala Naka Plant and 4,500 at Paretabad Plant.
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Similarly, the quantum almost doubled to 20,700 metric tons at the new and old plants, dropped to 3,600 at Hala Naka and remained the same at Paretabad in 2018-19. However, as the water commission's tenure expired in January this year, the chlorine use has also been significantly dropped at the four plants in 2019.
The new and old plants have consumed 1,217 metric tons, Hala Naka 950 and Paretabad 408. "... the report shows that in the years 2014 to 2016, no chlorine was used by WASA, which is an alarming situation," the bench observed, while ordering the court to conduct an inquiry.
The process of chlorination is carried out to kill the bacteria in the water. WASA's filtration plants draw water from the canals springing from the Kotri barrage, the last water regulatory structure on Indus River. The river, as it flows from Punjab and through Sindh, is contaminated by various sources.
Likewise, the consumption of aluminum sulphate at the new and old plants increased from 6,710 metric tons in 2014 to 311,180 in 2017-18 before dropping again to 17,272 in 2019. The aluminum was not used in Hala Naka Plant from 2014 to 2016 and in Paretabad Plant from 2014 to 2018.
WASA had allocated Rs1.5 million and Rs7 million for aluminum from 2014 to 2016 but the funds were not completely utilised. The allocation enhanced to Rs2.22 million for chlorine and Rs8.85 for aluminum in 2016-17 but only Rs380,000 were spent on buying chlorine and Rs1.8 million on aluminum. Similarly, the allocation and expenditures on the two items continue to be disproportionate in the ensuing two years.
During the hearing, the SHC ordered Sindh chief secretary to appoint a permanent managing director for WASA within seven days, observing that the Hyderabad Development Authority (HDA) Director-General Ghulam Muhammad Qaimkhani was working on a dual charge as managing director (MD).
Reason for neglect
WASA Additional MD Saleemuddin Arain and finance director Mohsin Jaffery showed the gap between the agency's income and expenditures to justify the shortcomings in their services amid the unpaid salaries. They held the provincial government partially responsible for their bad financial health besides low recovery from the consumers.
The petitioner, advocate Sajjad Chandio, who is also president of Awami Tehreek Party, told the court that while WASA's officials argue that their revenue collection always fell short of their expenditures, they are minting money by selling water illegally. "Around 700 car wash stations are stealing water from WASA's system without paying bills and in connivance with the staff of WASA," he said during the hearing.
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He also pointed out that the officials also make money through water tankers. The report shows that the agency spent Rs266 million on transmissions and distribution through water tankers during the crisis in 2017-18 and Rs134 million in 2018-19. The petitioner claimed that WASA is supplying unfiltered water to its consumers in Hyderabad.
While summoning the finance and local government secretaries on August 1, the SHC ordered the former to bring 10 years record of the funds released by the provincial government to HDA and WASA.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2019.
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