Aqueous Solutions

When I moved close to a year ago to Green Park, we had 24 hrs of running water and electricity. Today I come home to everyday warnings from my landlady to fill my buckets between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. What should I do? Move?…. Would that help? No.The last time people like me yelled about this, the Delhi government sat up and took notice. Or so we thought. The sad bit is this- they sat up and took notice and did the wrong thing. They decided to privatise. Good. Excellent. But how? They took up a partnership with the world bank to privatise the Delhi Jal Board– does that help? No. Why? They replaced a public sector monopoly with a private monopoly. It has failed and miserably at that.

The idea was simple. Really. It was to supply constant water so that pressure in the pipes will reduce leakage from sewage pipes and, in turn, contamination of household water supply. One stop solution. No contamination, constant water supply. How did they propose to achieve this? Certain portions of the city were to be brought under the jurisdiction of a private contractor whose duty it was to ensure that water supplied by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) gets to where it is supposed to. The contractor would be paid to do this efficiently so that distribution losses (around 40-50% according to CEE) would be minimized.

What are the problems? There is one contractor. He is guaranteed payment by the DJB. One contractor is again a monopoly, further the incentives aren't being earned based on performance. The 'private' party is involved only in disbursal of water– what about alternatives to the DJB itself?

There are worse problems. Like the fact that there are no figures for the demand of water in this city. Sample this: " In one water distribution zone, the DJB estimated the consumption is 139 million litres daily (mld). Then supply was measured, and found to be 223 mld, a huge
difference of over 100 million litres of water a day." The proposed project has plans that involve neither of these figures interestingly.

They choose to supply water to an arbitrary figure of a 120 mld. Strange huh? Now guess where this arbitrary figure cam from? Its a world bank sanctioned project– the figure is an average of other nations where the project has worked. So we are to get water based on another nation's data (Or so says CSE) !

There has been much opposition to the privatisation of DJB. Most of it because water will no longer be free or as cheap as it is currently. Water tariffs are well… Anti-people. Lets look at this, shall we? It costs the government around eight bucks to supply one thousand litres of water. How much do we pay? Around two rupees.

What about the other side of water supply, the ugly side? Sewage. Do we have figures, no. Let me do the world bank thing… Averages. Normally collection and disposal of sewage (excluding treatment mind you) is about five times the cost of distributing water. Undoubtedly this will be higher in India, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it is five times. The new DJB idea is that the government continues to supply water at the same costs regardless of volume and usage. So if we have 24 X 7 running water everywhere, we can use more and pay the same price. Nice? No.

The DJB, World Bank idea does not include sewage costs. None. So we have more water, more sewage all unpaid. Its the tragedy of the commons again. A public water utility will have more work to do and less funds. It will die a natural death, and our sewage pipes will burst.

This not how it is supposed to work. In fact this is not privatisation at all.Privatisation says put a cost to it, not give it away for free. Why? Because a price encourages responsible usage. What should be done? How about charging a standard water tariff per unit to those people who get water and store it, we could also clean up the sewage system. That would be a start.