Following the Bombay High Court's timely intervention, water-starved residents of Khambe village outside Mumbai have started receiving at least ten tankers of water daily in contrast to the two-hour water supply twice a month.
On Tuesday, the official water distribution company informed the court about its short-term and long-term measures to deal with the villagers' water woes, including replacing a 35-year-old pipeline and removing all illegal water connections by September 29, 2021.
STEM Water Distribution and Infra Company Pvt Ltd is a joint venture of Zilla Parishad, Thane and Bhiwandi Nizampur City Municipal Corporation.
Justices SJ Kathawalla and Milind Jadhav, hearing a petition by a few villagers, condemned STEM's inefficiency in removing illegal water connections and providing water daily, calling it a "blatant mockery of their (Petitioners) fundamental rights… after 75 years of Independence."
The court rapped STEM's Managing Director after he falsely claimed the villagers were receiving water; it further asked the State to constitute a committee to devise short term and long term measures for water supply. It also forwarded all its orders to the Chief Minister so that he could personally ensure compliance.
"...It is in the interest of the State to take up the present matter very seriously," the bench had observed.
Advocate RD Suryavanshi for the petitioners had accused STEM of earning lakhs by supplying water illegally to the political leaders, municipal councilors, tanker lobbies, industries, and construction sites.
On Tuesday, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted an affidavit with an "unconditional apology" from Bhausaheb Dangade, CEO of Thane Zilla Parishad, holding the additional charge as MD, STEM. He also apprised the Court of the following proposed measures:
1. In a high-level meeting, it was decided that the Thane Municipal Commissioner and Chairman of STEM will constitute a committee to disconnect all illegal connections (300-400) to the water pipeline in a phase-wise manner.
2. The same security agency that patrols the water pipeline in Mumbai will protect the water pipeline that reaches Khambe village.
3. From September 10, ten water tankers with a 10-13k litre capacity started supplying water to a common water tank in the village and the Gram Panchayat is responsible for ensuring its distribution.
4. Short Term –STEM proposes to lay down a new pipeline that will bypass Village-Khoni and Village-Katai, which has maximum illegal connections.
5. Long Term Solution – To resolve the increased demand issue for drinking water supply due to increased population, STEM proposes laying down a new pipeline from Mankoli MBR to Kharbao and Katai-Kambe, bypassing the Bhiwandi Corporation area. However, no deadline is set for this as it would involve land acquisition.
The court said it was satisfied with the State's measures and adjourned the matter for compliance to the end of the month.
Case Title: Shobha Vikas Bhoi & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra & Ors.