The decades-old underground water tanks, which were handed over to the fire department to refill their water tankers for years, have now become unusable. Reason: encroachments.

This is one of the reasons why the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has started to identify new spots to refill water tankers during an emergency.

RA Choudhary, deputy chief fire officer of the Mumbai fire brigade, said, “We need at least 50 new water refilling spots. Eighteen spots already exist, but that is not sufficient. We have told the hydraulic department we need 32 more. The prerequisite is they should have 24x7 high pressure water supply. We cannot rely on water hydrants anymore, as many are non-functional, and those that work don’t get water 24x7.”

Commenting on the encroachments, Choudhary said, “The underground water tanks handed over to the fire brigade cannot be accessed by a tanker. There are so many encroachments around them, that there is no place to put a pipe to draw water. We can’t count on them, even though they were made to aid the fire brigade.”

The fire brigade uses some of the 10,843 water hydrants. But in those cases, too, water supply is an issue. For example, Kiran Dighavkar, assistant commissioner of the A ward, said, “All water hydrants in A ward are functioning, but they get water only for a few hours. We have designated filling points are prominent places such as Azad Maidan, and Mantralaya, in case of an emergency.”

In some instances, the ward office receives a special request to start the water supply at odd hours, so the water hydrant can be used during a fire.

In case of Colaba’s Metro House fire of June 2016, water supply to the area was started at 7pm (odd hour) in the evening. However, according to civic officials, this is no longer a reliable method.