Green Living

The price of water

The recent water tariff revision by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board has triggered the usual protests and complaints. The Board has argued that there has been no tariff revision since 2005 and hence a revision is due. Overall the price has gone up by 20%, they argue.

Behind the muddied waters of an oftentimes confused debate lie some hard facts. As with all water supply utilities in India the BWSSB is a monopoly. That it is government owned is a small consolation .Since there are no regulators in the water sector there is no independent verification of the tariff suggested as well as the benchmarks of performance that need to be adhered to. The compact with the consumer that needs definition is also missing.

It takes a lot of investment to get treated water to households. In Bengaluru this water from the Cauvery is pumped 95 km and lifted 300 metres up before it is then further moved to homes and apartments that are spread over the vast city. This production costs money. If some of the figures from the BWSSB is to be correctly interpreted it costs Rs. 33 per kilo-litre of water just for the operations and maintenance cost. If you include the loans that need to be repaid the cost of water comes to Rs. 50 a kilo-litre. If a sinking fund is to be integrated and the non-revenue water accounted for the cost comes to a full Rs. 80 a kilo-litre. This would make it one of Asia’s costliest water.

Who pays for it? With water, you pay as a consumer or you pay as a tax payer. There is no getting away from payment in the real world. It is better to pay as a consumer of the resource so that some poor villager from, say, Gulbarga district is not indirectly paying through a tax, for water to be supplied to a rich home in, say, Indiranagar.

Luckily Bengaluru has retail meters in every legal connection so that the volume of the water consumed by a building is measured and tariff collected based on actual consumption. The more you consume the more you pay through an increasing block tariff.

While it costs Rs. 80 for a kilo-litre of water to be delivered to a building in the city the costs of sewage collection, conveyance and treatment is not clear. Perhaps it is included in the Rs. 80. If not it should cost approximately Rs. 30 a kilo-litre for correct sewage disposal as per legal norms. Remember one who consumes water needs to also pay for waste-water generated following the polluter pays principle.

Poor communication

The BWSSB is unfortunately an institution of engineers and accountants with an occasional administrator who keeps coming and going. Their communication skills is abysmal. If they are able to constantly tell the citizen of Bengaluru what it takes to get water to each of the approximately 700,000 connections maybe they will not face protests when prices go up.

The utility should dwell a bit on the compact with the consumer. Will they for example ensure daily water to all connections. Maybe 24/7 water supply? Perhaps a residual pressure head of 10 metres so that there is no necessity to build a sump tank and an overhead tank and pump water daily in each building? How about ensuring that the non-revenue water will come down to say 20%? What about ensuring that sewage is not allowed to flow in stormwater drains, polluting our lakes and rivers?

A constant flow of information and a dialogue with the politicians and citizens of this fair city would help everybody understand what the future holds for them in a water-constrained city.

Only a robust, financially stable institution can continue to provide an acceptable level of service to the city. It is in the interest of the citizens of Bengaluru to ensure that the BWSSB continuously improves as a utility. Remember that while we pay Rs. 70 for a litre of water, we are asked for Rs. 7 for 1,000 litres of water in the lowest slab of consumption.

When we pay the true ecological cost of water, when we ensure that the poor are not deprived to access merely because of a price , when there is universal access for all citizens to water only then can we say we live in a smart city . That is the water wisdom needed for our citizens and for our institutions.

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Printable version | Nov 18, 2020 4:14:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/green-living/the-price-of-water/article6574600.ece

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