Let this “Delhi Revolution” also be a harbinger for course correction in the politics of the whole country (Dec. 31). Mr. Arvind Kejriwal has to tread cautiously and shoulder the aspirations of the country. Planning should be meticulous and foolproof as even an unintended faltering step will have the effect of derailing a great revolution.
The AAP has ushered in a new era of citizen-centric and participative democracy. It is now evident that it is getting widespread support across India. However, the problem seems to lie in its populist policies (free water, reduced electricity meter rate) which may lead to bad economics in the future. The Delhi Chief Minister should not get too carried away and take measures that are unsustainable and unviable.
The AAP means business with the welfare of the masses ranking high on its agenda. While it remains to be seen how it goes about fulfilling its other promises — there are a whole lot of them — the AAP will learn with time that such largesse might make for instant popularity but could well turn out to spell bad economics. The concept of a welfare state is no doubt a high ideal, but freebies come at a price. If not regulated or moderated, the result could leave a big hole in the state exchequer. Experience makes men wiser and one hopes that the AAP will also turn wise with time.
Mr. Kejriwal must keep in mind that Delhi often finds itself in the vice-like grip of water scarcity and is totally dependent on its neighbouring States for water. He should also work out what the minimum water requirement per day for a family of four is and only offer that quantity for free, which otherwise would encourage wastage. He should also emulate the example of Tamil Nadu which has made the idea of rainwater harvesting a household concept.
Water supply is a complicated subject that baffles even the experts in this field. Inadequate distribution of water exists due to various factors. In simple terms, even though the source is created to meet the demand, the required amount of water pumped does not reach the consumer for many reasons, such as leaks of various kinds in pipes, joints, pumps, valves and in treatment plants. The primary reason for these leaks is old pipes and improper maintenance. In most of our towns, the percentage of leaks is between 30 to 60 per cent. Further, inadequate sources to meet demand have resulted in intermittent supply. This creates a vacuum in pipes. Consequently, in times of non-supply, polluted water surrounding pipes is drawn in and contaminates treated water. Treatment is in itself expensive.
The only solution is to effect continuous water supply. To achieve this, the system has to be redesigned and pipes and pumps replaced. The entire distribution network has to be divided into smaller zones, with bulk water meters installed at the entry point of each smaller zone and water meters at the consumer end.
Even though the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation insists that all States adopt a continuous supply system in a phased manner, there has not been much headway. Let us blame source and financial constraints for that. Till then, there will be huge loss of water.
In Delhi, Mr. Kejriwal’s ambitious scheme could come unstuck as these malpractices are bound to occur: a consumer will meddle with the meter to show consumption of less than 20 kilo litres a month; a meter reader will enter lower consumption manually in collusion with the consumer; there will be theft of water ahead of the water meter, and there will be unauthorised connections.
Finally, water projects are executed with finance from the local body and with loans from various sources. But the cost of operation and maintenance has to be borne by consumers and is collected in the form of water tax and tariff. Water is not a free commodity. Hence, the cost of free water is to be met by the Delhi Jal Board and reimbursed by the Delhi government. Thus, what is “free” to the public will in turn be charged to the government, which in turn will collect it from the citizen, who will think he got it for free! There is no escape from this. A way to compensate this loss is to adopt stepped up tariff. A consumer who uses up more than 20 kl a month must be charged more.