He admits to charging Rs. 2 for a bucket of water
“You speak to me… I am in charge here,” says K.G. Halli Councillor Shaheen Taj's husband Chotu Qureshi when The Hindu sought to speak to Ms. Taj about an illegal levy that is allegedly being imposed on water supply in the area.
“Yes, the water is supplied by the government. And yes, my men charge a small amount per household for it,” says Qureshi. But how can anybody charge money for water that is meant to be supplied free?
“It is not like my ‘chokre' (boys) are charging a hefty fee. When there is a problem in water supply, it is I who solve it and not the BWSSB,” he says.
When one goes into the narrow and garbage-clogged lanes of the ward, it initially begins to seem like the levy may not be much after all.
Purchasing a Rs. 20 token from Qureshi's men entitles a household to 10 buckets of water each time it is supplied through the public taps. Most households have purchased more than one token and Qureshi's men maintain a register of the tokens.
And, Qureshi ends up “earning” Rs. 16 lakh a month “supplying” water. . There are 800 pipes installed by the BWSSB connected to borewells that were sunk by the BBMP. Each of the 800 pipes supplies water to 10 taps. And each tap supplies water to at least 10 households. Even if we assume that each household has only one token, that adds up to Rs. 16 lakh a month for Qureshi and his boys.
But curiously, dozens upon dozens of residents did not know that the water supplied through the pipes is supposed to be free. “We are just grateful to Allah and to Chotu Bhai (Qureshi) that we get water in the first place,” says Famida Begum (37), a homemaker. The people of the area are desperate for water.
“Water is supplied to the taps in our house only once a month. We are completely dependent on the public taps which supply water once a week. Imagine running a family for a week with 10 or 20 buckets a week,” says Khurshid Begum (45).
Rehman Sharief, a leader of one of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti factions, has taken up the issue.