Kandy tales – of water and managementOctober 16, 2011
They say travel broadens the mind. A visit to the small yet beautiful city of Kandy in Sri Lanka has been an eye opener. One has been looking at the water supply and waste-water management in the city. The beautiful river the Mahaweli Ganga flows through the town. Unlike in India the river does not become a sewer after it leaves town. The water is clean and people enjoy a dip in it at many places. Why rivers are clean in our small but beautiful neighbor but not in our places? What is it about a culture that treats its city reasonably well, where there is hardly any open defecation and you do not see people urinating in public? Why is garbage handled very well and not lying strewn about everywhere?
The water supply to the town comes 24/7 i.e. if you open the taps you get water. The water is sweet and can be drunk straight from the tap without any treatment. It speaks well of good catchment management, no pollution, good handling of waste-water and finally good treatment of the water at the source before it is supplied to households. A miracle? Not exactly this has been the way it is since the British designed the water supply system. Why is it that no town in India has the ability to supply 24/7 water to its citizens? A question for our governance system and institutions to answer.
Kandy is a hill town, with many undulations and houses located on many a hill top. A bit like Madikeri. Yet water reaches every house on an hourly basis every day. Investments in infrastructure and in leak prevention have helped.
Kandy too has an increasing block tariff and volumetric metering and the price of the water supplied is good enough to recover the operations and maintenance cost of the system. When will we rationalize our water pricing to make it financially sustainable?
Sewage: The underground sewerage system is limited and many a house has to take care of its own sewage through septic tanks. A well designed septic tank is insisted upon by the local body before building permission is given. Before the completion certificate or the building occupancy certificate is given, the sewage system is inspected by the engineers of the local body to make sure it has been designed properly and implemented as per design. The inspecting authority also makes sure that the septic tank has enough manholes and is accessible by a vacuum truck for evacuation of sludge when needed and when the system is full. One has never heard of this happening in any town in India. Why cannot we make such systems work?
The septage or sludge is removed when full and supplied to the innumerable estates of coconut plantations. These are then composted and used as fertilizer. This represents a complete reuse of nutrients and productive sanitation which is non-polluting, at its best. Which town in India can boast of such a system?
No sewage flows in any of the storm water drains or natural valleys of the town. There is no garbage lying strewn in the valleys and clogging up natural water ways.
Rainwater harvesting: To prevent soil erosion and also t ensure that there is no flooding during the heavy rains at Kandy; rainwater harvesting is insisted upon for all new buildings. They have to make a recharge pit and soak away the rooftop rainwater into the ground thus reducing the burden on the storm water systems. The beautiful rainwater gutters and down-pipes are a joy to watch. Every building has one.
A culture which is clean and functional, institutions that have definite plans and systems , a governance system geared towards the delivery of services to people all result in a quality of life which though basic is clean. Is this too much to aspire for in India? A visit to our neighbours down south is highly recommended. Not just a visit but a learning which will look to transform the way towns and cities in India is run vis-à-vis water. Kandy calls.