Households depend on private tanker supply: study

CHENNAI, MARCH 3. The "informal water market" supplies as much as an equivalent of one-fifth of effective supply by Chennai Metrowater, according to a study.

For the purpose of the study, private tankers are considered the informal water market as they carry groundwater from sources, which are not tapped by the city's official water agency.

As per an estimate, 55 million litres a day (MLD) is supplied by the informal market through 1,000 tankers, each having a capacity of 12,000 litres.

Carried out by a team of eight researchers during October-December last year, the study formed part of a research programme of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo, and Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai. The findings were presented two weeks ago at a workshop in Anand, Gujarat.

(However, Chennai Metrowater disputes the findings. A senior water manager says the private tankers' contribution could have been in the range of only 10-15 per cent in those three months when the study was undertaken. At that time, Metrowater supplied 225 million litres on alternate days and 50 million litres on non-supply days. The average transmission and distribution loss is 20 per cent of water supplied by Metrowater).

Chennai is one among the six major cities covered under the study and it figures in the top as far as the volume of water (55 MLD) supplied by the informal market is concerned.

Indore, Nagpur, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Bangalore are the other cities covered in the study. The quantum of water sold by private tankers is 37 MLD in Bangalore followed by 22 MLD in Jaipur, 20 MLD in Indore, 18 MLD in Ahmedabad, and 14 MLD in Nagpur.

As Chennai records the highest quantum of water sold by private suppliers, it provides the maximum net profit for them estimated at Rs. 35 crores. While the suppliers in Bangalore earn Rs. 14 crores, their counterparts in the other cities bag profits in the range of Rs. 4 crores to Rs. 7 crores.

According to the researchers, the cost of water per 1,000 litres in Chennai is in the range of Rs. 50 to Rs. 60. (In recent weeks, the tanker water suppliers have hiked their charges at least by Rs. 50 for every 10,000 litres).

Unlike in the other cities, tanker water supply in Chennai is undertaken as a year-round business activity, the research team has noted, also acknowledging the presence of a formal association of tanker water suppliers.

An interesting finding of the study is that households form the major chunk of tanker water customers in the six cities, depending on tanker water in case of emergencies and in case of failure of supply by the public system.

In terms of customer profile across the cities, households constitute 40 per cent and commercial establishments - 24 per cent, while other categories of customers such as those engaged in construction account for the rest.

Among households, high-income groups are the biggest consumers of tanker water suppliers, constituting 51 per cent, and the middle-income groups account for 43 per cent.

The researchers, led by Archana Londhe of the IWMI, have also pointed out that only in Chennai, the State Government has imposed restrictions on sources of groundwater extraction. However, they have also said that "the most astonishing fact about the tanker water market is that there is no record with any government department about its size, scale and modus operandi."