This refers to the article “Water priorities for urban India” (Jan.1). What is the use of providing free water to everyone in Delhi when it does not have even its own assured source and supply of water? Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should first ensure that there are adequate water reservoirs and rainwater harvesting systems in place. He should also ensure that water is piped first to all people who need it.
After 66 years of Independence, here is a party that recognises the prime importance of equitable distribution of water. Thirukkural says: “Rain or water by its absence ruins men; and by its existence restores them to fortune.” Mr. Kejriwal must now supplement his water scheme with proper recycling systems put in place.
The writer has made out a strong case against distribution of free water, arguing that the cost of supply is to be borne by the consumer. This argument is not new if one goes by the prescriptions of the World Bank, the ADB and the influential World Water Council. The logic is that to minimise wastage, you need to increase the water charge. It is a simple demand-supply logic of economics. The second is that as the government is often unable to bear the cost of supply, the cost of “production” of water has to be recovered from consumers for a supply scheme to be sustainable.
Both these arguments fail. First, by increasing the charge, you can regulate water usage by the majority of the population who are not able to pay. But in our country, the rising upper middle class and those who are wealthy are ready to pay for extra water. This will lead to unjust distribution.
By providing clean water, the state is saving money in the health-care sector, as the incidence of waterborne diseases come down, and man-days are saved. In effect, the government is making a profit! Mr. Shah has dealt with leakage but his figures are questionable. In Kerala, leakage is only around 25 per cent. The interesting fact is that actual physical leakage is not measured by most water utilities. What they give as leakage is actually water unaccounted for, that is, the quantum of water that is not billed. The main cause is unauthorised connections and corruption rather than actual leakage.
On the face of it, the idea of supplying 666 litres free of cost appears wasteful. But it will popularise the idea of rationing. Water is not an unlimited resource and people will realise that with water conservation there are long-term benefits. It is said that wars in the future will be fought over fresh water.