Srinagar: Once upon a time there used to be long queues of women waiting for their turn to fill their earthen pots with water at the public taps that were installed in the early twentieth century under the Maharaja’s rule. Before the taps were introduced, streams, springs and rivers were the primary source of water for people living in Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir. But once the taps appeared, they became essential for drinking and cooking purposes, especially in Srinagar.
These historic public taps, installed at what were called ‘public posts’, are still there, but rotting with rust. Their base, though, is still sturdy, for it was made of a special durable stone.
Kashmiri historian Zareef Ahmad Zareef says that the public posts date to the times of Maharaja Pratap Singh, the third Dogra king, in whose tenure they were set up in Shehr-e-Khaas or old-city area of Srinagar to provide clean water to people.
“During the early years of twentieth century, the water supply to the city, particularly to Shehr-e-Khaas, was systematized in 1906 when Maharjara Pratap Singh with the help of British engineers built the first water reservoir (Sarband as it is called) at Harwan in the outskirts of Srinagar. Later, pipelines were laid across the city to supply water from this reservoir to the general public,” Zareef said.
Even after the water supply system was established, only a minuscule section of society could afford or opted for private water supply connections, Zareef said. The majority continued with the old means of fetching water from streams.
“Given the low-income status of the majority of people, the maharaja was advised to set up public posts from where poor people who could not afford private connections could fetch clean water. Hence the common public taps were established, to provide clean water to poor people,” Zareef said, adding, “In every mohalla of Shehr-e-Khaas, from Amira Kadal to Safa Kadal, public taps were set up for this purpose.”
The public taps were specifically made of bronze metal and their base, normally measuring between 5 and 10 feet, was made of a special stone that maintained its sheen and shape.
“Now we hardly find taps of bronze at places where they used to be earlier. Either they were stolen or suffered damage with the passage of time. Their restoration did not figure in the priority list of the government,” Zareef said.
The public posts were not only restricted to water supply for domestic purposes. At many places in Srinagar, special fire-tender spots were created from where during an emergency a huge amount of water could be drawn to douse a fire.
“Not only that, a section of sweepers was assigned the work of sprinkling the roads to keep the dust settled. They went about carrying water bags made of skin of domestic animals, which they filled at these public taps and then sprinkled water on the roads, before the sweepers came to clean the roads,” he said.
During and after the years of militancy in Kashmir, a number of public taps were set up in memory of martyrs. Columnist ZG Mohammad says that the families or relatives of the slain militants established a number of public posts as memorials to them.
On the attitude of the public and the government towards the public taps, Mohammad said that earlier both of them felt it their responsibility to protect and preserve these taps, but now apathy has taken over both.
“Even though water supply is provided these days, it doesn’t mean that these posts should be abandoned. In developed nations like America, they still have public posts where people drink water, but we don’t even have public toilets,” he said.
Chief Engineer at the Public Health Engineering department, GM Bhat, said that public posts have become largely “irrelevant”. He said that his department has time to time made renovations if there was a need somewhere, but in Srinagar, the majority of the public taps are either defunct or little care is paid to their upkeep.