Puri, the holy town on the east coast of India, is a popular religious destination because of the Lord Jagannatha temple and related activities, such as the just-concluded Ratha Yatra. Throughout the year, it hosts both religious devotees as well as tourists who come to the coastal town.
Unlike large metropolitan cities across the globe, Puri is a small town with a population of 2.5 lakh. It faces a slew of challenges such as poverty, waste management, housing, water, mobility, unemployment, and issues related to sustainability.
Yesterday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the ‘SUJAL: Drink from Tap’ mission, which aims to provide potable drinking water round the clock to those residing in the Puri municipal area. The town now has 400 water fountains to encourage drinking water from the tap and curb the use of plastic water bottles carried by the crores of tourists who visit Puri annually.
Addressing Concerns Over Quality
The idea behind the mission is praiseworthy. But there is a possibility of purified drinking water flowing into gardens, toilets, kitchens, and other systems. This may discourage the use of the taps; tourists’ fears over quality may also hamper the efforts to stop the use of plastic bottles. There is, hence, a possibility that the initiative will meet the same fate as the ban on plastics, which are still very much in use in Puri.
“Puri became the first heritage town in the country to get this facility. It is now in the league of international cities like London, New York, and Singapore to supply quality piped drinking water from tap 24/7,” said Patnaik while launching the programme. It is encouraging to compare Puri with London, New York and Singapore, but filling the trust deficit and making people — both tourists and locals — feel safe will be a challenge.
However, the success of the initiative shouldn’t be measured just in terms of the drop in the use of plastic water bottles by tourists. Instead, a few measures that can gauge its success are:
noting how many households and establishments give up personal water purifiers,
checking whether social gatherings are conducted without plastic water bottles,
making sure that the public fountains are hygienic and sanitised, and
ensuring that there is no disease outbreak due to contamination.
Understanding Ground Realities
Whether Puri will join the elite club of Singapore, New York, London remains to be seen, but the current reality is that the coastal town is far from these cities in terms of the quality of life. The comparison is akin to buying bicycles for the public and proclaiming that Bhubaneswar is now at par with Amsterdam. Not understanding the ground reality often backfires on good intentions.
In conclusion, for Puri’s size and population, the initiative is a step in the right direction to promote urbanisation. But it is too early to strike comparisons with New York, London, or Singapore, which have undergone years of robust planning to set a benchmark today. And even then, they fall short on various fronts. All this means that Puri must wait to put out a statement that the world would be willing to believe.
(The author is an urban management practitioner and helps with innovations in city management. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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