In May 2003, the Punjab government has revised the water and sewerage user charges for
next five years in all the five municipal corporations and 137 municipal councils with
immediate effect. The measure will raise more than Rs 100 crore annually. The hike in the
domestic sector is directly proportional with the size of the landholding. Only the user
with a plot of less than one kanal will pay unmetered charges. The rest along with the
institutions and commercial sector will be charged as per the meter reading. And, a user
with a defective meter will pay three times more. It is widely believed that this hike
will improve the economic status of the civic bodies, while checking wastage of water. A
user friendly move, in a true sense.
Source: A SPrashar (2003), User charges for
water, sewerage up, The Tribune, Chandigarh, May 5
In most countries, drinking water is supplied by the public sector and, is considered
as a non economic utility to be supplied free of cost. Further, in a country
like India, electoral politics further complicate the issue. And, water tax instead of
being used as an economic tool to check wastage of water is reduced to an ineffective
gizmo by the state.
For instance, under political pressure, the Indore Municipal Corporation revoked its
decision to charge Rs 3,250 to regularise the water connection through public boring. This
is not an isolated case. In Delhi, the proposal to raise the water tariff has been
stalled, as the state assembly elections are due in November 2003.
Although different state governments have tried to hike the user charges but it has
been generally done to compensate for a rise in power tariff like in Faridabad, Haryana.
Interestingly, states like West Bengal and Punjab are upgrading the user charges to
minimise the subsidy component in the operation and maintenance of the water distribution
system. The Punjab governments move that was applauded in urban centre (See
box: User friendly hike) has been receiving strong criticisms from the rural areas. The
government hiked the rate of drinking water in villages from Rs 40 to Rs 50 per connection
per house at places, where 40 litres of water was supplied per day under a scheme. And, at
places, where the scheme was designed to supply 70 litres, Rs 70 is levied. Besides, for
using public taps, each household has to pay a monthly cess of Rs 10.
In 2003, West Bengal government announced its water tax collection policy. Both
domestic and commercial sector will pay tax according to their wealth tax and the size of
the ferrule respectively. This move, according to urban development minister, Ashok
Bhattachrya will,"gradually reduce the subsidy component from 70 to 50 per cent and
subsequently abolish it. Every municipality will have to generate enough revenue from its
users to run the supplies." This move was strongly opposed by the Trinmul Congress,
one of the main opposition party in West Bengal. Ironically, many of the serving
municipality chairmans elected on Trinmuls ticket, disagree with their partys
If we continue to have water free, we shall not be having it for long.
rises, patience evaporates
For decades, it has been a familiar sight to see
women in most parts of rural India trek long distances for a pitcher of water. 56 years
after independence, as India begins to get identified as a global IT and nuclear power,
similar scenes are being enacted in countless towns and cities.
The situation has turned from bad to worse. Every year, new
areas join the list of water scarce zones. In summers, water becomes a law and order
problem to be managed by the police. Some such instances this year are:
district, Karnataka: Irked by acute drinking water shortage in Boodaagumpa
village, the residents locked up 14 members of their gram panchayat in the office. As
tension mounted, police was called in.
district, Karnataka: In April, about 15 villagers from Gamanahalli, Mysore, were
injured in a fight over using a pond. Here, the problem is not just about water scarcity
but of discrimination. Dalits are only allowed to take water for drinking purposes.
"We were facing water scarcity. But when we asked them if we could use the pond water
for washing clothes they threatened us and beat up our people", said a dalit
villager. Discrimination here is an age old problem. But issues like water scarcity can
lead to bloodshed.
Maharashtra: Swete, a sweeper, and his neighbour had dug a borewell. When it did
not yield enough water, Swete asked for his money to be returned. But was allegedly
attacked. Later, the local political groups gave it a political overtone, turning
Nallaspara into a battleground of water wars in April.
Madhya Pradesh: A dispute over drawing water from a handpump led to a clash in
which one person was killed and six injured in Koula village, Bhopal. This is the first
case of water related violence reported in the district this year.
district, Madhya Pradesh: During a town contact campaign, organised
by the district administration, the police had to intervene, when enraged residents
blocked the passage of the officials.
district, Gujarat: Residents from about 36 badly affected villages are up in
arms. Reason: a canal carrying thousands of gallons of water from the Narmada river
bypasses their locality supplying water to other villages, whereas they remain thirsty.
In April, Delhi Police Commissioner RSGupta, identified water as one of the issues that
could trigger a major law and order problem for the next few months. And, rightly so. On
April 25, about 15 people were reported injured when a water-related fight broke out in
Malviya Nagar. These days such fights are a common sight in Delhi. Govindpuri is getting
its daily water supply at 2 am and here, small quarrels very often degenerate into major