Repair sewers or go to jail

By Ramya Swayamprakasham
Published: Monday 15 December 2008

Court told Delhi water utility officers

THE Delhi High Court has sentenced a former chief executive officer of the Delhi Jal Board and two other officers to two weeks in jail for not repairing sewer lines in the capital and letting the sewage flow into the Yamuna without treatment.

The court on November 25 held former chief executive officer Arun Mathur, chief engineer (drainage) R K Jain and executive engineer (civil) P Pant guilty of committing contempt of court by not abiding by an undertaking given to it two years ago to repair broken sewer lines and stop flow of sewage into the storm-water drain in four areas of South Delhi. The three officers were also fined Rs 20,000 each. A fourth officer, former chief engineer B M Dhaul, escaped punishment because he has retired.

The court has, however suspended the jail term for three months. During this period the board can complete the repair work and escape punishment.

At present, sewage is flowing into a 4 km storm-water drain along Greater Kailash, Masjid Moth, EPR Colony and Chirag Enclave in South Delhi. "If a department which is meant to look after the sewer lines is not able to stop the flow of sewage into a storm water drain and into the river Yamuna, questions can be raised about the utility of such a department," Justice S N Dhingra said in the judgement.

The court was hearing a petition filed by the residents' welfare association of S block of Greater Kailash-I for initiating contempt proceedings against the board officials. The residents have been complaining of increased risk of diseases like jaundice and hepatitis and unbearable stench emanating from the storm water drain because of the sewage released into it.

The board said it had carried out repairs but this was a case of re-occurrence of flow of sewage into the storm water drain because of new settlements. Lawyers for the board told the court that tenders had been invited to mend sewer lines.

The court retorted, "Excuses are always available for those who don't wish to work." It also trashed the board's defence that the sewer lines were more than 35 years old, hence susceptible to collapse. "Main trunk sewer lines are meant to last not decades but centuries since they are lifelines of cities," the judge said. "Repeated failure of the sewer system shows the quality of work being done by djb (Delhi Jal Board)."

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