The water train to Marathwada is making no waves in this part of the country. For 14 years now, arid Rajasthan has been using the Railways to get its districts water. This year since January, the state’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) has been running a 50-wagon train from Ajmer to Bhilwara daily, carrying 25 lakh litres —the same as planned for Jaldoot eventually.
Data with the North Western Railway, headquartered in Jaipur, shows that between April 2002 and October 2002, water trains made a total of 243 trips from Ajmer to Abu Road (in Sirohi district), and to Sojat Road and Bomadra (in Pali district). A severe drought had been declared that year in all the districts of the state.
“The trains were run from Ajmer division and water was sourced mainly through Jawai dam,” says NWR’s CPRO Tarun Jain. The dam has a capacity of 78,875 million cubic feet.
“I was posted at the Mandal railway station then,” recalls Anwar Ali Khan, now the station master at Bhilwara railway station. “As soon as the water train arrived there, people would climb atop it, with buckets and pipes, and make off with whatever they could. The Railway Protection Force too wasn’t harsh. The people just wanted water to drink. They anyway couldn’t collect much.”
The water trains have been working intermittently since. In 2005, they were required for Phulera in Jaipur, Kankroli in Rajsamand, Bhilwara and Udaipur district.
While other districts have over the years made gradual, even if little, improvements, Bhilwara continues to lag behind. The Rajasthan government recently made a list of 89 towns and cities and 14,487 villages worst-affected by the water crisis. Around 15 per cent of the villages are in Bhilwara.
While the district was to be linked to Chambal river about seven months ago, the project is delayed.
R K Ojha, Superintending Engineer, PHED, Bhilwara, says the district has a water shortage of 255 lakh litres daily. “On an average, a person gets low-pressure water, for less than an hour, every 96 hours.”
This year, the first water train to the district ran on January 19, and it costs the state department Rs 4.63 lakh per trip, which it pays to the Railways. The ‘Water Special’ — as it is called — arrives around midnight at Bhilwara, its arrival time depending on how busy the 110-km route is.
The 50 wagons, each carrying 50,000 litres, bide their time all night, until contractual staff workers arrive at about 6 am and water is drained into a 9-lakh-litre water tank at the end of the station.
“We simultaneously pump out water to two other thanks,” says Mukesh Sharma, a contractor. “These two tanks send water to pre-designated city areas.”
Assistant Executive Engineer at PHED Niranjan Hada says each locality’s turn comes after four-five days.
It takes about three hours to empty the train. Some time after noon, the train starts its journey back to Ajmer.
At Ajmer’s Nasirabad station, contractor Awdesh Vaishnav is waiting with his staff of six, including supervisor Phool Chand, for the train’s arrival at 3.30 pm.
The wagons are filled with water coming from Bilaspur dam, after filtration. “I saw visuals at Latur, of two people holding pipes pouring water into the train. It is quite risky as the pressure is quite high and it is wasted too. Here we have a mostly automatic system,” Phool Chand says.
By 9-10 pm, the train is set to return to Bhilwara. “We have perfected the system,” says Sunil Singhal, Superintending Engineer, PHED Circle, Ajmer.