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Puri has Drinking Water Taps, But It’s Not New York or London Yet

The 'Drink from Tap' initiative is praiseworthy but challenges related to the quality of life remain.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>People in Odisha's temple town Puri can drink water directly from the tap. Representational photo.</p></div>
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Puri, the holy town on the east coast of India, is a popular religious destination because of the Lord Jagannatha temple and related activities, such as the just-concluded Ratha Yatra. Throughout the year, it hosts both religious devotees as well as tourists who come to the coastal town.

Unlike large metropolitan cities across the globe, Puri is a small town with a population of 2.5 lakh. It faces a slew of challenges such as poverty, waste management, housing, water, mobility, unemployment, and issues related to sustainability.

Yesterday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the ‘SUJAL: Drink from Tap’ mission, which aims to provide potable drinking water round the clock to those residing in the Puri municipal area. The town now has 400 water fountains to encourage drinking water from the tap and curb the use of plastic water bottles carried by the crores of tourists who visit Puri annually.

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Addressing Concerns Over Quality

The idea behind the mission is praiseworthy. But there is a possibility of purified drinking water flowing into gardens, toilets, kitchens, and other systems. This may discourage the use of the taps; tourists’ fears over quality may also hamper the efforts to stop the use of plastic bottles. There is, hence, a possibility that the initiative will meet the same fate as the ban on plastics, which are still very much in use in Puri.

“Puri became the first heritage town in the country to get this facility. It is now in the league of international cities like London, New York, and Singapore to supply quality piped drinking water from tap 24/7,” said Patnaik while launching the programme. It is encouraging to compare Puri with London, New York and Singapore, but filling the trust deficit and making people — both tourists and locals — feel safe will be a challenge.

However, the success of the initiative shouldn’t be measured just in terms of the drop in the use of plastic water bottles by tourists. Instead, a few measures that can gauge its success are:

  • noting how many households and establishments give up personal water purifiers,

  • checking whether social gatherings are conducted without plastic water bottles,

  • making sure that the public fountains are hygienic and sanitised, and

  • ensuring that there is no disease outbreak due to contamination.

Understanding Ground Realities

Whether Puri will join the elite club of Singapore, New York, London remains to be seen, but the current reality is that the coastal town is far from these cities in terms of the quality of life. The comparison is akin to buying bicycles for the public and proclaiming that Bhubaneswar is now at par with Amsterdam. Not understanding the ground reality often backfires on good intentions.

As the ‘Drink from Tap’ mission is designed entirely around a community-based water management system at the ward level, women-led self-help groups are tasked with ensuring connection for every household, efficient meter-reading, billing, collection of water tariff, complaint management and quality testing. In other words, a highly technology-driven system will be managed not by tech experts but by self-help groups, which can have its own pros and cons in terms of accountability, efficiency and governance. In contrast, in the case of Singapore, New York, London, the systems are entirely tech-driven.

For Puri’s size and population, the SUJAL initiative is a step in the right direction to promote urbanisation. But it is too early to strike comparisons with New York, London, or Singapore

While Puri has decided on community-led water management, the Singapore system is regulated by comprehensive guidelines for the monitoring of the quality of tap water. Water samples are taken from reservoirs, distribution systems and waterworks, and tested in specialised laboratories. This happens at each individual stage of the treatment process. Roughly 400,000 tests are carried out on an annual basis, involving organic, physical, microbiological, radiological and inorganic parameters. Should there be lapses, the government has clear rules — owners face a fine of up to $10,000, up to a year of imprisonment, or both.

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Too Early For Comparisons

Meanwhile, the Odisha government has doubled the budget available for drinking water in the last five years to ₹400 crore. The government has said Odisha leveraged ₹1,394 cr allocation under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) to make this possible. At present, 36 MLD clean drinking water is being supplied in Puri, and about 135-140 litre of drinking water per head per day is provided to residents, which is the highest in the country, the Puri administration has said.

In conclusion, for Puri’s size and population, the initiative is a step in the right direction to promote urbanisation. But it is too early to strike comparisons with New York, London, or Singapore, which have undergone years of robust planning to set a benchmark today. And even then, they fall short on various fronts. All this means that Puri must wait to put out a statement that the world would be willing to believe.

(The author is an urban management practitioner and helps with innovations in city management. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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