Hyderabad: It took two people’s deaths, and over 250 hospitalisations, including that of infants and the elderly, before officials from the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) replaced drinking water pipelines at Vaddera Basti, in Madhapur.
On Thursday morning, about two weeks after people began falling sick in the Vaddera Basti area, residents there finally felt a sense of relief as the HMWSSB sent a team of workers to lay new water pipelines in the area. Until then, they were provided with 20 litres of water per household for two days.
However, no replacement is being done in other affected areas such as in Shubhash Chandra Bose Basti in Hafeezpet, Corporate colony in Chanda Nagar, and a Basti opposite KIMS hospital in Kondapur, said locals.
When this reporter visited and spoke to workers who were tasked with the job of laying new pipelines in Vaddera Basti about the condition of old pipelines, they said that drinking water and drainage pipelines mixing up were behind the mishap.
“Can’t you yourself see how terrible the situation of the pipelines are? They are all mixed up, sewerage has been leaking into these pipelines. What else will happen if there is a sewage hole right next to these old drinking-water pipelines?” said one of the workers.
Following the by various news agencies that the people of Vaddera Basti in Madhapur got sick from drinking the water supplied by the HMWSSB, the department issued a clarification on 8 April.
It said, “Drinking water was supplied to the Basti from 5.30 am to 6.30 am on 05.04.2022. However, this incident took place on 07.04.2022. Therefore, there is a time interval of 48 hours between the time of water supply and the time of the incident. If there is a problem, people will get sick immediately after drinking the water. This does not happen even after 48 hours.”
The water board aid said that its team in the area collected 44 samples and tested the water quality. “This water contains 0.5 ppm chlorine just like it should be. Therefore, it should be noted that water supplied by the HMWSSB is not the cause of the Vaddera Basti incident.”
If the HMWSSB is not at fault, then one can only wonder how such a tragedy occurred.
Deputy General Manager (DGM) of HMWSSB, Srinarayana Naidu told Siasat.com, “We tested the water samples on two days, 8 April, and 9 April. The water supplied by us is completely safe to drink.”
Upon asking the reason for the prompt water-pipeline replacement in the area despite refusing responsibility for the incident, the DGM said, “The problem is something else. It is due to people’s carelessness. The reason we are replacing the water pipeline on an emergency basis is to avoid further panic among the people. The pipelines are also very old, so it is better to replace them.”
When Siasat.com asked the officials if the HMWSSB would replace pipelines in other locations such as in Shubhash Chandra Bose Basti in Hafeezpet, Corporate colony in Chanda Nagar, etc, where the same problem exists, he said, “They mostly live in asbestos or tin-roofed houses, they eat unhygienic food, their surroundings aren’t clean. The summer heat would have caused them to fall sick. It has nothing to do with the water being supplied.”
Apart from 120 people who have been hospitalized, there are several other people who reached out to local Anganwadi centers for help.
A total of 268 people reported being sick and were consulted by the Anganwadi centre at Vaddera Basti. The Anganwadi sector head said, “When people started coming in, we gave immediate medical assistance to them. We then referred serious cases to Kondapur Government Hospital. On 7 April, 95 people reported sick, 83 people on 8 April, 41 people on 9 April, and another 49 people on 10 April.”
Vaddera Sangham state president, Attari Anthaiah said, “The people in this Basti used to be stone-cutters. But now they mostly work as daily-wage workers at construction sites. Why would anybody pay attention to issues around low-income sections? We’ve taken it upon ourselves to ensure the water pipelines are laid correctly.”
When asked why the people refused to file a First Information Report (FIR) regarding the death of their community member, Bheemaiah, he said, “The police initially approached the people to investigate the issue. But that involves a post-mortem of the deceased. There is so much stigma associated with post-mortems, they did not want to get entangled in police matters, which is why the family members refused to go ahead with it.”