The KUKL must now phase out the use of groundwater resource where feasible, allowing it to recharge over time

Finally, water from the much-hyped Melamchi Project has arrived in the homes of the Kathmandu Valley, and is reason for celebration. Some 40 million litres of water were distributed to 98,000 households by the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) on Sunday as scheduled in the first phase.

By Tuesday, all of KUKL's reservoirs should be filled with Melamchi's water, and it will be distributing a total of 170 million litres of water from the river in Sindhupalchowk through its different distribution centres. KUKL has, however, asked the consumers not to drink the water for now as it is in the testing phase, which could be contaminated as the tunnels and pipes have only been inaugurated. But the people are just thrilled to have water in the mains. The Melamchi water has given a big boost to KUKL's currently available resource, which is only about 80 million litres a day. So 250 million litres of water will now be available daily for the valley's residents, although the demand stands at 430 million litres.

The Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) is a national pride project, and it would not have generated so much excitement and despair had it not been for the constant delay seen in executing the multi-billion rupee undertaking. The project was first mooted in the Eighties as a solution to Kathmandu's drinking water woes during the Panchayat era. Following the collapse of the partyless system in 1990, the first interim Prime Minister, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, had envisioned cleaning the streets of Kathmandu with Melamchi's water. The project was inaugurated in 1998, and the first phase was supposed to have been completed a decade later, but it wasn't until 2007 that it finally got off the ground. The project was to see its completion in 2013, but it was plagued by one hurdle after another, leading to cost overruns and shifting of the completion deadline time and again. The project was delayed by frequent change of contractors, the devastating earthquake of 2015, the Indian blockade and, of course, corruption at high levels.

The Melamchi project is the first national pride project to be completed, and is a feather in the cap of K P Sharma Oli's government, which is facing opposition on multiple fronts. The second phase of the project envisages bringing another 170 million litres of water each from the Larke and Yangri Rivers through the existing tunnel, which will allow KUKL to distribute a total of 510 million litres from the Melamchi project daily. The second phase of the project will benefit residents living outside the Ring Road. Currently Kathmandu's water demand is being met by pumping groundwater, which has led to steady depletion of the resource. With the Melamchi water finally arriving here, the KUKL must phase out the use of groundwater resource where feasible, allowing it to recharge over time. Melamchi's water should meet the needs of the Kathmandu Valley for a long time if the country's population can be dispersed elsewhere and not be over concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley only. This means developing cities and towns with modern facilities, including drinking water, education and health facilities in different parts of the country.

Poor quality food

The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control has found that the market is flooded with sub-standard foodstuffs. In the first eight months of the current fiscal, the department collected 2,284 samples of food items from various markets and found that around 14 per cent of them were of poor standard. Samples of pulses, oil/ghee, cereals, fruits and vegetables, spices, processed drinking water, fresh milk and dairy products were collected during the review period.

It is the unscrupulous business people who want to become rich overnight by selling substandard food items that are detrimental to public health. Due to lack of regular monitoring and the provision of strict punishment for selling low quality edible items, the business people have also been found replacing old labels with new ones to make a quick buck. The practice of changing the labels was widely found during the months-long lockdown. It is the responsibility of the concerned department to regularly monitor the markets and take punitive actions against those indulging in unethical business practices. The department must swing into prompt action to see to it that business persons don't cheat the consumers.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 30, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.