ON WEDNESDAY, 76-year-old Nagappa Narsingappa Lamzane, a resident of Prakash Nagar in Maharashtra’s Latur district, walked two kilometres in the summer heat to turn up at a well, metres from the Latur railway station. “They should fill this well up to the brim. Our eyes will then well up with tears,” he said, turning emotional as he peered down the well.
With Latur staring at its “worst ever” water crisis in decades, with its main source of drinking water, the Manjara dam, completely dry since February, the state government has decided to send trains filled with water from Vaarna dam in Miraj, 8 km from Sangli town. Trial runs of the train have been on since Monday, when the first train with its 10 wagons carrying 5 lakh litres of water set off from Miraj and reached Latur, 342 km away, the following morning. On Wednesday, another 10-wagon train set off from Miraj station at 11 am and reached Latur around 7.30 pm.
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At Latur, workers have been racing against time to prepare for the “first real train”, when a 50-wagon train carrying 25 lakh litres is slated to roll into the station over the weekend. A group of labourers are drilling holes for inlet pipes into an 850-metre-long concrete pipeline.
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P V Patil, executive engineer of Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran, a government body that controls water supply in the state, said, “We laid the pipeline early last week before the first trail run. Water from the wagons was emptied into this pipeline through rubber pipes connected to the inlet. We had made 10 inlet holes (for each of the 10 wagons), but now we are drilling more holes for 50 wagons.”
The pipeline runs all the way to the well, where the water is emptied. From there, a 250-metre rubber pipeline takes the water to an open ground near the station, where the water is filled into tankers and sent to Latur’s water treatment plant, before being supplied to different parts of the city. “The water we get from Miraj is treated, but we are re-treating it to check against any contamination as a result of the transportation process,” said Latur District Collector Pandurang Pole.
“Six water tankers are currently doing the job of transporting water from the well to the treatment plant. But this is a temporary arrangement. We are laying another pipeline connecting the well to the treatment plant. This work should end in three to four days,” he said.
At the Miraj railway station, it’s a different set of logistics. With the existing water filling facilities, it takes three hours to fill one wagon if, as railway officials say, “things go as planned”. And they haven’t quite been.
“Our existing infrastructure is used to fill tanks aboard passenger trains. These tanks have a capacity of less than 300 litres and the work is done in 15 minutes. But filling these water trains is a different ballgame. We have been using three-four pipes to fill one wagon and even then, it takes about three hours to fill one. On Monday evening, we stopped the water supply to three other platforms so that we could fill the wagons faster, but this led to a pipe burst. The pipe had to be repaired before we could resume our work,” said Vivek Kumar, Transportation Officer at Miraj, explaining why the second trial run had to be delayed by a day.
Two teams of the railway’s technical staff and labourers have been working in three shifts — 9 pm to 4 am, 6 am to 9 am and 2 pm to 8 pm — to fill the wagons. At the end of every shift, the train has to be moved from platform number two, where the filling usually happens, back to the yard to make space for other trains to halt at the busy station.
The Sangli district administration is also laying a new pipeline to connect the railway water treatment plant at Miraj with the yard, where a new filling station is being built. About 500 metres of the 2,700-metre-long pipeline has been laid and it is expected to take another four days to be ready.
Back in Latur, Collector Pole has his math ready for the 50-wagon train that is expected to reach the station over the weekend. “The well near the station can hold 17 lakh litres. We will get close to 25 lakh litres when the 50-wagon train comes. Each wagon will hold nearly 50,000 litres. So when the water is being pumped into the well, we will have to simultaneously pump out water into the waiting tankers or the pipeline if it is ready by then.”