Mumbai Local

Yet again, ‘Smart’ Pune stares at acute water shortage

Pune is yet to feel the lash of summer, but it is already teetering on the edge of a full-blown water crisis.

Water storage levels in four major dams supplying potable water to the city have plummeted to a perilous 10.59 TMC, barely 36 per cent of the total water stock. Three of these dams, Khadakwasla, Varasgaon and Temghar, have less than 50 per cent water left as their reserve stocks.

This is a steep fall from the previous year’s cumulative storage of 16.84 TMC in the four dams.

Water woes have brought in big business for owners of tankers. At present, no less than 600 tankers ply the city roads supplying water to various localities.

The Pune Municipal Corporation generates revenues in the excess of Rs 20 lakh per month by permitting these private operators to fill up at 15 stations across the city. However, activists point out the endemic corruption in the private tanker business.

The civic body gives water to tankers at very low prices, which is sold outside the Pune Municipal Corporation limits at higher rates.

“A significant portion of the revenue generated by the private tanker business is grabbed by officials and local politicians, many of whom control the tanker business,” says RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.

“Despite the PMC making it mandatory to install a General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) in each vehicle, the system has been rendered largely ineffectual as the corporation has failed to set up any sort of monitoring system to maintain records on the vehicles.”

According to Irrigation Department officials, 28 villages in and around Pune district depend exclusively on tankers for water supply.

The tanker numbers are expected to soar in the coming months.

Since September last year, the city itself has been receiving potable water only on alternate days. In a bid to ensure 24x7 water supply, the PMC earlier this week decided to approve a 12 per cent levy on water charges for the 2016-17 fiscal. This would be followed with a 15 per cent increase every year till 2020-21 and five per cent thereafter till 2047.

The main objective of the new levy is to raise funds for the PMC’s ambitious round-the-clock water supply project, pegged at Rs 3,300 crore, where the civic body will seek to tap funds from a variety of Central schemes including the Smart City plan and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation.

The funds are expected to firm up the PMC’s rickety water supply system apparatus, which has hitherto been notorious for leakages as high as 40 per cent of its total water supply.

“It is high time Pune gets metered water supply,” said Parineeta Dandekar, researcher and water expert of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. “Those who use excess water must pay for the same as water is a scarce resource and must be used cautiously.”

Till September last year, the PMC could achieve barely achieve 24 per cent of its programme of metering water connections.

While experts have supported the hike arguing that the surcharge was a rational step that was long overdue, the move has degenerated into a political blame game pitting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against its coalition ally in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena.

The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has backed the BJP, while the Sena has combined with the Congress and the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to vociferously oppose the hike claiming that the levy was an additional tax burden on Pune’s citizens.

The paucity of water has also spurred a battle between the PMC and the Irrigation Department with Mayor Dattatreya Dhankawade stating that the PMC would oppose any move on part of the Irrigation Department to supply water to Pune’s outlying rural areas such as Daund, Purandar and Indapur talukas.

The PMC is worried that the Irrigation Department would now tap into the city’s ‘water quota’ to supply water-starved rural areas.

“There is insufficient water to meet the city’s needs as it is. We will oppose any move on part of the Department to supply water to other areas from the PMC’s ‘stock’,” asserted Mr Dhankawade.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 7:57:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/yet-again-smart-pune-stares-at-acute-water-shortage/article8208383.ece

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