Since we depend on numerous sources and umpteen people for obtaining water, it is time we invested in institution building for the right play of governance and management, feels water activist S. Vishwanath

It is extraordinary how blinkered our institutions of water supply and sewerage management seem to be when it comes to managing water and waste-water problems of a fast growing city. Almost everywhere, citizens rely on multiple sources of water.

Water comes as harvested rainwater in some houses for part of the year; through borewells for many homes and apartments; as bottled water especially for drinking and cooking purposes in large and small plastic containers; through private water tankers for generally non-potable use; and in some apartments and layouts through recycled waste-water for flushing the toilets or for watering the gardens. Of course the piped water supply from the city utility is there too to provide a major supplement.

This is an extraordinarily diverse and resilient system because if one systems or player fails it is possible to replace it with the other. The single-point dependency on just piped water supply seems history for urban India.

Waste-water treatment

Unfortunately the response of the governance system to encourage and manage such a diverse system is abysmal. There is, for example, no system of licensing and training waste-water treatment operators so that they do a good and efficient job. Most waste-water treatments either fail to work or function at very low levels of efficiency.

Rainwater harvesting has seen some training of plumbers but a regular follow-up and ensuring that systems perform to potential simply does not exist. As for groundwater, everything right from the identification of points for drilling to the drilling and commissioning is in the hands of a rather large informal sector.

It is time we invested in institution building so that the right play of governance and management and the correct nudges come to ensure that this orchestra sings a harmonic tune. For example, it would make perfect sense to encourage private water tanker operators to get a loan from a nationalised bank and therefore reduce their cost of capital so that they charge lower amounts for the water they supply.

The borewells they use could be widely distributed and away from residential neighbourhoods so that they do not become a nuisance to the residents and deplete the groundwater to great depths.

Groundwater

Lake revival, with treated waste-water, would be on top of the actions and investments not only to fill and protect the water bodies but also to recharge the groundwater so that residents nearby can draw it easily.

Right time

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. This is election time in our fair State. It is time that political parties commit themselves to an institutional reform and a governance reform and ensure that water supply utilities become urban water management institutions providing the service that citizens demand from them, ensuring equity and access to all and seeing water in its entirety and not simply as piped water.

Will we rise to the challenge? If we do that, it would be water wisdom.