At exactly 10.55 pm on Tuesday, the much-awaited 50-wagon train carrying 25 lakh litre of drinking water left Miraj in Sangli district for drought-hit Latur city, a distance of around 342 kilometres.
It is expected to reach Latur between 6 and 7 on Wednesday morning. The train had previously made as many as 9 trips, each time carrying 5 lakh litres of water, to the parched city.
The train, as railway officials put, is set to receive a grand welcome at the Latur railway station on its arrival. Latur city mayor Akhtar Mistry, Municipal Commissioner Sudhakar Telang, locals, activists and local politicians seem to have geared up to welcome the “Jaldoot Express”, which was specially commissioned from Kota in Rajasthan to transport water to the 5 lakh people of Latur city.
“Yes, I will be there early morning to welcome the train. It is a big occasion…the train is coming with big relief for Latur citizens who have been struggling to get drinking water,” the mayor said.
Shahbaz Sayed of the Azad Yuva Sanghatna, said they plan to felicitate the train driver. “It is momentous occasion for Latur citizens who have to struggle for every drop of water. Every family in Latur has to buy water everyday and put all their purchases on hold. The citizens are under tremendous pressure, but this is some sort of relief.”
The Jaldoot first made its trial run on April 11. The train initially faced several clearance issues due to the single line section from Miraj to Latur. As a result the train reached Latur in 17 hours. However, the railways then pulled all stops to ensure that the train was given all the clearances during journey. Subsequently, the train took just 8-9 hours to reach Latur. In fact, once it surprised everyone in Latur after it arrived in 6.35 hours flat.
“Once it arrived in Latur in just over 6 hours and another time in 7 seven hours. We ensured that it had all the clearances,” said R K Sharma, senior divisional manager (operations) of Solapur division of Central Railways.
While the Solapur division of Central Railways ensured that Jaldoot Express navigated the tracks without any hitch, the Pune division of the Central Railways took care of the loading of water at the Miraj Railway station.
The water is first pumped through a 4 km closed pipeline from the railway jackwell located on the banks of Krishna river to the water treatment plant at Miraj railway station. From the plant it goes to Haider Khan well, which is at a distance of 2.5 km. And from the well to yard, the water travels through a closed pipeline into the waiting wagons.
“The 10 wagon trains carried filtered water through smaller pipeline. But after that the system was changed by placing bigger pipelines of 6 inches, the water would be flowing from filteration plant to the Haider Khan well and from there to the wagons,” said railway officials.
Latur district collector Pandurang Pole said they were refiltering the water before supplying to the citizens through tankers. Krishnat Patil, operational manager, Pune division, said they plan to run the train every day till the onset of moonsoon.
“Every day, civic body has pressed into service 450 trips by tankers. Each Jaldoot trip will take care of the daily drinking water needs of the city,” said district collector Pandurang Pole.
Latur Municipal Commissioner Sudhakar Telang said that currently the civic body was supplying drinking water to a particular area only after 8-10 days, but that is set to change once the water is transported regularly to Latur.
“After getting 25 lakh litre water, the tanker trips will certainly go up and we will be in a position to provide water after at least every four days,” he said.
Latur city — which has a five lakh plus population — used to get water directly from Manjara dam through a closed pipeline. Water was provided once every 8-10 days since the last monsoon. However, after the Manjara dam completely ran dry, water scarcity has doubled in Latur. The civic body officials then started lifting water from three other smaller dams whose water-levels are also fast depleting. There are as many as 15,000 borewells — unofficially 40,000.
“Half of the borewells don’t have water…others are only a trickle,” said the civic chief.
At the Latur railway station, the water is decanted from the wagons into an 850 metre long RCC pipeline.
It is then released into the a nearby well which has a capacity of 17 lakh litre officials. From the well, water is lifted through a high density plastic pipeline and loaded into waiting tankers. From there it is being sent to the water filteration plant.
“We are laying a three km direct pipeline from the well to the filteration plant. It’s work is still under progress, said Telang.
The state government has sanctioned Rs 3 crore for the entire project. The idea was mooted by a BJP leader Makrand Deshpande, who is also a member of the Railway Committee, from Sangli.
“When I first mooted the idea to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at our meeting in Nashik, the CM asked me to remind him next week. When I reminded him, the CM immediately sent Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse to Sangli to announce the project on April 5,” he said.
The CM had spoken to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu who immediately gave green signal to the plan, said Deshpande.