Providing basic services like water to the residents of a city is the responsibility of the municipal corporation. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is keen to fulfil its responsibility and has made arrangements of tanker water in order to supply water to areas such as Sus, Pashan, Narhe, Uruli Devachi, Phursungi, Bavadhan Budruk, Lohegaon, Hadapsar and Mundhawa which have been newly added into the city boundary.
PMC, unfortunately, does not have a supply system infrastructure in these areas. The Corporation owns a few tankers but these are not enough for the job, so it takes the help of private tanker services by awarding them contracts for this service. PMC runs seven tanker-filling centres where these tankers can be filled with potable water.
The seven centres are located at Vadgaonsheri, Parvati, Chatushrungi, Yerawada, Ramtekadi, Padmavati, and Patwardhanbaug.
The rise of corruption
While PMC may have been motivated by the right reasons — provision of water to all citizens — sadly, this seems to have paved the way for privatization of water. Along with the tanker service providers who are on contract with PMC, other private tanker service providers can also fill their tankers at the filling centres by paying higher prices.
According to this report in Hindustan Times, water can be procured at a rate of Rs 497 for 10000 litres, Rs. 783 for 15000 litres and Rs. 1103 for 20000 litres. These are then sold to housing societies and other water starved places at exorbitant rates.
When there were complaints about these tankers selling the water at other places and not where they were meant to, PMC installed GPS on each tanker to track its location and make sure that the tanker actually served the targetted areas. Private tanker service providers (non-contracted) also have GPS installed, to ensure that they do not go outside the territory of Pune.
But irregularities continue to be reported. The tanker service providers have to pay the required charges to PMC, take a challan and produce the challan to avail services at the filling centre. There have been cases where a single challan was used multiple times to fill the tanker. To tackle this problem PMC installed CCTV cameras and water meters at tanker filling centres in order to monitor and verify the number of tankers being filled and the utilisation of the water.
“All this was done just for show, because we were raising voices against these corrupt practices. If you go and check now, nothing is working. When we visit these centres we find that the cameras are focused somewhere else, meter records are not kept, the GPS is dysfunctional. The tools are all there, but nothing is monitored and maintained,” a civil society member working on water issues said.
Non-contract (private) tanker service providers sell the water procured from filling centres to citizens, but there is no control of PMC on the pricing of water from these tankers. Tanker service providers say that it depends upon supply and demand, which is why prices shoot up during summer. When PMC reduces water supply in summer because of the shortage of water, many of the housing societies rely on these private tanker service providers.
Housing societies seemed to be spending anything between a few thousands, and 30-40 lakhs yearly on tankers. Once this expenditure becomes unaffordably high, they demand more water from PMC.
“It is very time consuming and difficult to get additional water supply from PMC. We found a sustainable solution to this in the form of bore-wells,” says one of the housing society members.
Housing societies find bore-wells sustainable because sustainability is often considered only in terms of economic sustainability, ignoring social and ecological sustainability. There is very little awareness about the ecological impact of over-exploitation of groundwater. This leads to increased dependence on groundwater.
It is common to find housing societies dig one or more bore-wells to fulfil their needs of water and save on their expenditure on water tankers, especially on the outer fringes of the city. Sadly however, societies that are ready to invest in bore-wells to exploit groundwater are reluctant to invest in rainwater harvesting systems to replenish groundwater, with a few exceptions.
A study conducted by Pune-based organization ACWADAM proves that around 3.78 TMC water is extracted from groundwater out of the total need of 14.5 TMC.
Unholy nexus; loose regulation
PMC cites the lack of infrastructure and geographical constraints (in case of high lying areas) as reasons for its inability to provide sufficient water. On the other hand, housing societies claim that there is a nexus between local politicians, PMC bureaucrats and the tanker lobby. Most of the tanker services are owned by politicians or have some kind of political background. This nexus allows corrupt practices at PMC’s tanker filling centres.
To highlight this issue, Pimpri Chinchwad Housing Societies Federation had launched the ‘No Water, No Vote’ campaign before the Maharashtra State Assembly Election 2019 and plan to go for ‘No Water, No Vote, No Tax’ campaign as the next step.
Rainwater harvesting is mandatory for housing societies in Pune, but there is no mechanism to monitor and ensure the functioning and maintenance of these rainwater harvesting systems.
Maharashtra is considered a forerunner in terms of management of groundwater usage, which is regulated by the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act passed in 2013. This law has very useful provisions regarding registration of bore-wells, community level management of groundwater, mandate to share groundwater extracted from private well/ bore-well with community etc.
Ironically, these provisions cannot be implemented, as the rules for implementation are not in place. Delay in framing the rules might be because of entities like politicians, tanker lobby etc. who do not want to lose private ownership of public goods like groundwater.
Privatization transfers control and/or ownership from the public realm to private and entity depriving people from access to public resources. In order to prevent this exclusion, there is an urgent need for an alternative and a responsible citizenry that knows and claims its ‘Right to Water’. This is possible through active participation in existing campaigns.
At the same time, citizens themselves should take responsibility for sustainable usage of resources like groundwater. Devising measures like rainwater harvesting and community level management can go a long way towards fulfilling such responsibility.