Residents suffer as well water levels dip around Metro tunnel

Residents around Wadiaji Atash Behram write to MMRCL about water levels in building wells dropping; ask, where’s the groundwater recharge plan you promised

For the Zoroastrians living across the road from Wadiaji Atash Behram, it’s a case of ‘we told you so’. Within just two months of the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) boring the Metro III tunnel under Jagannath Shankar Sheth (JSS) Road, the wells that have been springing water for close to a 100 years within their buildings have hit rock bottom levels.

Members of Mumbai’s Zoroastrian Parsi community have been embroiled in a legal tussle with MMRCL since May 2018 over the damage and desecration that the tunnelling would cause the 188-year-old religious structure. Additionally, scholars had warned of the effect of tunnelling on the well inside the structure, whose water is used exclusively for religious practices. While speaking to mid-day in December 2018, Zoroastrian scholar Khojeste Mistree had said, “As a result of tunnelling, if the water channels change, then for all practical purposes you cannot conduct any rituals in the fire temple. If the well runs dry, then the fire temple is redundant.”

Residents from Karim Manzil, Singapuri and Sukhadwala buildings stand by the well in Karim Manzil
Residents from Karim Manzil, Singapuri and Sukhadwala buildings stand by the well in Karim Manzil

After experiencing acute water shortage since the tunnelling started under Wadiaji, the residents of three of the affected buildings have written to the MMRCL on February 25 demanding swift action.

MMRCL commenced tunnel construction under JSS Road after the Bombay High Court lifted the stay order on November 30. While the tunnel-boring machine travelled beneath the Anjuman Atash Behram between December 11 and 13, it crossed the Wadiaji Atash Behram between December 19 and 22.

The well at Karim Manzil
The well at Karim Manzil

Homa Pouredehi, a resident of Sukhadwala Building, said that the residents have relied on well water for all domestic chores. With a 10 percent water cut announced by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is currently in place, Pouredehi said it was the well water that was seeing the residents through. “Earlier, the motor would bring up water for two hours. Now, it’s a trickle for half hour,” she said. This means she can no longer wash her dishes under a tap, and now dips them in a bucket of water.

Betty Yih, who has lived in Singapuri Building for 15 years, is unable to wash a round of clothes every day. “I am trying to use as little water as possible, and now wash only twice a week.”

A resident of Karim Manzil, Gulshan Dubash, says they have to call a water tanker once in 10 days. Pics/Atul Kamble
A resident of Karim Manzil, Gulshan Dubash, says they have to call a water tanker once in 10 days. Pics/Atul Kamble

Karim Manzil is in a worse situation, with residents like Gulshan Dubash having to call a water tanker once in 10 days. “That’s a Rs 400 cost per trip,” she said. The letter which includes the signatures of more than 20 residents from Karim Manzil, Singapuri and Sukhadwala buildings, states: “MMRCL had assured us that their work would be closely monitored and no damage or inconvenience would be faced by the public. Nobody from your side has checked anything about this problem. Both the fire temples on JSS Road are facing the same situation as even their water levels have gone down and there is dirt at the bottom of those wells too”.

Hosi Dastur, trustee at Wadiaji Atash Behram, confirmed that the water level of the well inside the fire temple is lower from what was recorded last year at this time. “At present, we’re able to manage, but if the levels continue to drop, we won’t be able to carry out rituals. We will have no choice but to take the matter back to court,” he said.

Dastur added that MMRCL officials had not made any efforts to recharge the well, neither had they responded to queries raised by the trustees last year. Jamshed Sukhadwala, chief petitioner in the case that’s currently pending in Supreme Court, said MMRC officials have claimed that water levels are generally stable, and are not linked to the tunnel boring operation.

“MMRC has also proposed that in case any construction related drawdown of water levels in the wells is observed, recharging of ground water table shall be initiated through recharge wells in the vicinity. In case of a drawdown of water level in the wells, grouting of the cracks, under pressure from the face of the tunnel will be resorted to, so as to prevent depletion of the water table. This has to be done before the support rings are placed in position.”

No comment from MMRCL
When contacted, MMRCL officials did not wish to comment on the subject.

Was aquifer affected?
An aquifer is a rock formation that holds water and allows it to flow through. Experts, however, feel that repairing the aquifer is a long-drawn process that can take years. Neha Bhave, a researcher at Pune-based institute Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management, said, “While digging the tunnel, the aquifer could have been affected. It is either completely or partially removed leading to a drop in water levels.”

ACWADAM works on projects on aquifer-based groundwater management across the country, and in Nepal and Bhutan. She added that transferring water from another well means tapping into yet another aquifer, which is not the solution.

Apart from the natural solution – which is to wait for the rains – Bhave pointed out that artificial recharge interventions can be considered. “Water can be captured in a rainwater harvesting structure which can allow it to percolate slowly over a period of time into a particular aquifer.”

Published on Mid Day