City of Taj reels under power, water shortage

June 28th, 2009 - 10:22 am ICT by IANS  

By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, June 28 (IANS) The monsoon is delayed, the Yamuna river is dry, power is playing truant and tourists are staying away. It is all adding up to make life in the city of the Taj exceedingly difficult and many are turning to age-old rituals to appease the rain gods.

Mahesh Sharma, a Hindu priest, told IANS: “If it doesn’t rain in a week’s time, some rituals will need to be carried out.”

“In the Fatehpur Sikri area, we have heard of some symbolic marriages of dogs and frogs. Last time in 2004, when it did not rain for long, many people, including small girls, sat on ‘tapasya’ (penance), fasting for over a week till the rains came,” Sharma said.

Fasts, prayers and fire rituals - it’s all happening in Agra district with the hope of some rain. The district has a population of over 3.6 million people.

The Yamuna river that flows next to the world famous Taj Mahal is completely dry, the smaller streams look deserted, the water table in the rural areas such as in the Fatehpur Sikri area has gone down up to 300 feet and the community ponds have no water to support animals.

The Agra water works department has resorted to emergency cuts in an already poor and erratic water supply arrangement for the city.

The city needs more than 900 million litres per day (MLD). The capacity of the two water works in the city together is 250 MLD, according to Supreme Court monitoring committee member D.K. Joshi.

“To add to the woes of the people, the irritating power cuts, despite the Supreme Court directive of an uninterrupted power supply to the eco-sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone, have made life hell for the people of Agra,” said environmentalist Ravi Singh.

These past few days the power supply has been at its worst, with several areas remaining without power for several hours.

V.S. Tripathi, engineer in-charge for transmission estimates the demand for electricity to be around 700 MWs, while the supply is around 609 MW.

Work on the Yamuna Expressway has necessitated long suspension of power supply, say officials of the power supply company Dakshinanchal Viduyut Nigam Ltd (DVNL).

Kripal Singh, MD, DVNL, told IANS: “Right now the demand pressure has increased by 25 percent because of the severe heat. Our sub-stations are overheated. Around 10 percent gap is there between demand and supply.”

Agriculture-economist B.B. Barik told IANS: “The monsoon-dependent agricultural system stands threatened with a real fear of a major cut-down in production, which could trigger law and order problems and all the euphoria of development in the past couple of years will disappear.”

The canal system in Mathura and Agra has been seriously affected.

“The farmers in Hathras, Sadabad, Mathura and Agra depend on these canal systems and the minors branching out from them. With little or no water in the Yamuna and the Ganga, even the Alaknanda river in the hills is dry, and if there is no rain in the very near future, there is no way the drought conditions can be addressed,” says an executive engineer of the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department.

The number of tourists visiting the Taj Mahal and other monuments has been affected by the hot weather.

“It is no longer a pleasure to see the Taj in the afternoons. We have had to run back to the hotel though we had planned to spend a few hours there,” said Martha, a tourist from Britain.

Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association, said the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should have made additional arrangements for drinking water and provided umbrellas for the tourists.

“Tourists look for shade and some water inside the Taj Mahal, but one has to either carry a bottle or walk back half a kilometre to drink water,” guide Manoj said.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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