The mega Janibili project is yet to see completion. The hurried inauguration before 2019 elections have benefitted residents of 11 wards out of 42
Battle For Silk Crown
The battle for Berhampur Municipal Corporation has entered the slog overs. The clash for the silk city mayor will not be as smooth as silk for the ruling BJD, because waters still run deep in the city residents despite the mega Janibili project.
As the Municipal elections are taking place in the month when the harsh summer is knocking at the door, a 'water voting' may have the potential to water down the ruling BJD prospects in the silk city when the Party besides CM Naveen Patnaik's image has the likes of MP Chandrasekhar Sahu, who himself had been the chairman of Berhampur Municipality in 1992 and known for spelling out the 'Greater Berhampur' Plan then.
In the given backdrop, both BJP and Congress are on the strategy to make the city residents go for 'water voting' and take the fight to the BJD camp.
How precious is water for Berhampur and 'vote-wise' for the BJD is evident from the fact that CM Naveen Patnaik had laid the foundation stone for the mega Janibili project in October 2013 ( 8-months before the 2014 General elections).
And before jumping the 2019 fray, amid the Modi wave, had quite hastily inaugurated the water project on Mar 4, 2019 - a month before the 2019 general elections.
With the project yet to see its completion date, and when water is supplied to only around 11 wards under the BeMC, when the Corporation has 42 wards, the mayor battle will not be a cakewalk for the ruling BJD
As per the data available with the district administration, prior to the inauguration of Janibili projects, Berhampur city received its water supply from surface source from Dakhinpur (31.25 MLD Water Treatment capacity). Besides, the city banked on groundwater source from Bada Madhapur Collector well (20 MLD) and 4 MLD from production wells in different locations in Berhampur.
In sum, the water resource availability for the city has been around 55 MLD, whereas the city requires 64 million litres of water daily. In the summer months, the surface water source from Dakhinapur falls to around 15-20 MLD. The acute water scarcity can well be imagined then.
Post the hurried inauguration by CM Patnaik before the 2019 elections, water availability has improved in the city.
But as the project is still to see completion, the water scarcity remains very much in the Silk City. The Janibili Project has the potential to supply 60 MLD water to the silk city. For which, around 5500 -6000 residents have availed the project benefit when the city has over 2.1 lakh voters.
In fact, post the inclusion of Berhampur in the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), the Civic body in the Silk city is duty-bound to meet the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) benchmark of providing 135 MLD water to Berhampur city.
Moreover, the AMRUT calls for providing water connections to each household in the city, when at present only 39 percent of the households has accessibility to piped water.
Also, the City has a water storage capacity of over 22 million litres, which is grossly inadequate for the water demand in the summer months.
Significantly, as per highly placed sources in the PHED, Berhampur, as the water is supplied to residents via direct pumping, households residing at a distant end from the main pipeline witness a trickling down effect.
The convention, as per MoUD, is in order to make water supply equitable, the supply needs to be from the elevated surface reservoirs.
The above facto-graphy clearly outlines why Berhampur city is still reeling under acute water scarcity even today.
Attributing the delay to the pandemic regulations since 2020, BJD Mayoral face Sanghmitra Dalai said the mega water project will soon see completion. The Naveen Patnaik government has sanctioned many water storage projects for the city. The water stress in the city is not there now, she claimed.
Besides, water supply, the BJD will take up the ring road project in the silk city to decongest the traffic. Our earlier work and commitment speak, city denizens will therefore support Naveen Patnaik in a big way, she asserted.
However, the BJP's Mayor pick Sabita Suar lambasts the ruling BJD for failing to solve the city's water crisis despite in power for over two decades. The touted mega project (Janibili) has not given succour to city residents.
"As per AMRUT, the water supply benchmark has been 24X7. But the supply in majority households and public taps have been around 1-2 hours," she claimed and added that the drainage system and traffic congestion is also very acute. And the BJD has absolutely failed in solving these basic requirements of the city, she asserted and said, "BJP has reached to the voters apprising of the schemes of Modi govt like AMRUT, which will be a panacea for all urban ills."
The GOP Take
Congress Mayor candidate Manju Rath has also castigated the ruling BJD in failing to solve the perennial water crisis in Berhampur town.
"Residents, more so slum dwellers, face a very gargantuan scarcity of water in the city, especially during the hot summer months. It is during Congress rule in the 1990s when the vision of 'Greater Berhampur' was floated. Had that been implemented, they city would have become a job centre," she claimed.
The Key Issue
With 33 percent of residents in the Silk city dwelling in slums, and when two in every five households have only piped water supply, that too erratic, water scarcity has emerged as the flashpoint in the Mayoral polls. Therefore, the battle for the City Mayor will be a water-tight one.
A look at the votes polled for BJD, BJP and Congress in past elections, especially the recent 2014 and 2019, hints big.
The induction of Chandrasekhar Sahu into BJD has shored up the party's vote base in a big way. The BJD has gained over 25k votes in 2019 elections.
On the other hand, the GOP has lost a whopping around 22-23k votes. The party's polled votes shrunk to around 17000 from over 42,000.
Meanwhile, the BJP has seen its voter base growing from around 25000 to over 42000 in 2019. The saffron party has a vote gap of over 24,000.
The BJD vote base in over 26.27k slum households is very high courtesy of being the ruling party in the State. The slum population has the highest engagement index with the State government for various assistance.
In sum, the BJD has the advantage factor over the Opposition. But the battle will be very interesting.