The Khardongla glacier, the only drinking water source of Leh town, is highly polluted due to indiscriminate discharge from toilets and sewage water into it. It has also been supplying water for irrigation, feeding sizable cattle population and recharging underground water.
Despite having its place on the world map, the Khardongla top is yet to see the main civic issues affecting it redressed. The so-called ‘beautification’ plans might have swept these problems under the carpet for a while, but not for long as the problems return to haunt the glitzy K-top’s image, thanks to the callousness and apathetic attitude of the departments concerned.
Neha Smiriti, a tourist, says the washroom there is in a complete mess, and too dirty for use. Councillor, Diskit, Tsering Angchuk, says there is a plan to shift the toilet to some other place. “We have the same problem of lack of toilet at North Pullu where the stream is polluted by the heavy influx of tourists and army labourers. The same stream water is used by the people of Nubra for drinking,” says Angchuk.
The Councillor says the people of Nubra too have appealed to the authorities to find a solution and protect the water source from being polluted further.
The toilets at North Pullu were found locked, and on top of that one finds garbage piled up next to the stream. It is a grave health issue. With many people visiting Nubra from all over the world, the public toilets should be in good condition for the floating population of tourists.
According to policemen at the North Pullu, about 80,000 tourists have already visited Nubra till July 22. If Khardongla toilets are classic examples of poor upkeep, streams of North Pullu are even worse due to the shortage of toilets.
Gyan Nyantak, Councillor, Upper Leh, says that Khardongla is the main source of water for the whole Leh, up to Skara. “I have raised this issue many times earlier, and also at the recent General Council Meeting but no action has been taken so far,” says the Councillor.
"When it rains, then the whole toilet discharge flows down and contaminates the underground water", he adds with concern.
“It is important to identify a proper spot for toilets so that they don’t contaminate the water sources. I am tired of taking up the issue with officials,” he says. Recently, the CEC, Dr. Dawa, and DC Prasanna Ramaswamy G visited these spots but no results yet, says the Councillor.
He suggests that local traditional dry compost toilets will be very suitable for those places as they will not pollute the water sources.
Ladakh could also learn valuable lessons from poorer neighbours such as Bangladesh, which has brought down open defecation cases from 19% to 3% in just two years by decentralising sanitation programmes.
While provision for hygienic toilets for the public is the buzzword in the country, the lack of adequate public toilets and the appalling state of the existing ones is a shocking reality that none can deny. Are the authorities listening?