Even if it had escaped the jaundice outbreak, which has so far left seven dead and affected over a 1,000 people, Shimla would still have witnessed a major health disaster sooner than later. The town is being supplied drinking water mixed with its own sewage as its treatment plant at Malyana, located 1.5 km below the Mehli-Dhalli bypass road, is in shambles.
Half of the machinery at the plant, which has an installed of 4.44 MLD (Million Litre Per Day) capacity, is defunct, the sewage treatment process is faulty while there is absolutely no monitoring of its operations.
The contractor running the plant (currently on the run after the police FIR) had employed no skilled manpower and neither had an operational manual to follow. The plant was either being kept deliberately shut or partially operational, at the whims of untrained attendants. As a result, untreated sewage is dumped into the Ashwani Khad (rivulet), Shimla’s drinking water source.
When The Indian Express visited the site, it found that atleast four electric motors, including the main attached to the secondary clarifier tank, out of order. The aeration tank – 5 (B) has been non-functional since 2013. Another one was empty and damaged.
Sludge slurry has been dumped into uncovered pits with a fair chance of it flowing down to the Ashwani Khad. A bypass outlet has in fact made it easy for raw sewage to drain directly into the rivulet.
Admits Shimla SP D W Negi, “The issue involves the lives of thousands of citizens but there seems to be total callousness and criminal negligence not by just the officials but primarily by the contractor. We have recorded the statements of staff at the plant and that supports the charges of criminal negligence. Sewage was discharged straight into the water while the plant remained shut”.
Set up under OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries ) funding, Malyana is among six STPs set up by the IPH department in 2005 at the cost of Rs 54.80 crore, of which Rs 14.80 crore was the state’s share. The Mumbai company, MWH India Pvt Limited, which had set up the plant, was never involved in imparting training to the staff engaged by the contractor, an influential Shimla-based hotelier. The contractor is paid over Rs 1 crore annually to run all the STPs, including the one at Malyana.
The IPH department, which had last week shifted a SE-rank officer and place two engineers under suspension after the outbreak, has now posted a newly-recruited junior engineer, who has been asked to look after two STPS, including the one at Dhalli.
There is no approach road to the plant despite recommendations from a high court panel in 2008 and no generator set installed as standby in case of power failure. The staff admit that untreated water flows to the rivulet during power failures or breakdowns.
A Shimla MC official told The Indian Express that the contractor normally waited for the rains to let the slurry and filth flow down to the Ashwani Khad and relied on natural flooding but this time, the dry spell has resulted in less water discharge and increased contamination leading to the jaundice outbreak.
Vineet Kumar, member secretary of the HP Pollution Control Board, claimed that at least six to seven showcause notices were served to the IPH for the Malyana plant without any response. “There was unfortunately no response and apparently no action,” he complained, adding that the last notice, a copy of which was also marked to the engineer-in-chief, IPH, was sent as late as in October 2015.
Shimla Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar, however, alleged that it was a cover up and that all stakeholders are now attempting to pass the buck. “Till the water quality at Ashwani Khad is declared fit for human consumption, we will not take supply from there for the town,” Panwar said.