There is a distinct nexus between slum-dwellers, water mafia, politicians and bureaucrats, reports Gajanan Khergamker
Water is a precious commodity and one that is guaranteed by the Constitution of India to ensure a wholesome life. Article 21 ensures Right to Life for Indian citizens. Over years, the Supreme Court of India and various state High Courts have defined the Right to Life as enshrined in the Constitution.
In a a case that’s subjudice in the Supreme Court, the court has given a notice to the union ministry of health on quality of water sources in villages. Here, the litigant has asked the court to enforce quality water in sources for drinking water and the argument is that non-safe water is a violation of Right to Life. That apart, India has been a signatory to many international conventions that treat water and sanitation as a right.
The Supreme Court has ruled, “The Right to Life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings. The magnitude and components of this right would depend upon the extent of economic development of the country, but it must, in any view of the matter, include the bare necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of human self.”
In 2002, the apex court validated the Sardar Sarovar dam project on Narmada in 2000 interpreting the right to life article as right to water. “Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right to life and human right as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India and can be served only by providing source of water where there is none.”
In 2004 giving verdict on a PIL on fast depletion of groundwater in Delhi, the apex court ruled that groundwater is a social asset. It further said that people have the right to use air, water and earth interpreting the Article 21vii. It even observed that in groundwater use, domestic and irrigation needs must be prioritised.
On sanitation issues, courts have given verdicts interpreting it as a right under Article 21. In 1988, the Rajasthan High Court ordered the Jaipur municipality to ensure proper sanitation within six months.
In 1980 the Supreme Court in a case involving Municipal Council of Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh and a citizen, ruled: “Decency and dignity are non-negotiable facets of human rights and are a first change on the local-self governing bodies.”
Back home here, in Mumbai, in July 2010, a Right to Information plea revealed that there were about one lakh points of water leakages, and about 19,000 connections were unauthorised. In all, there were 3,44,253 authorised water connections in the city. Of the 3,400 million litres water the BMC supplied per day, 20 per cent water goes down the drain due to leakages and theft.
RTI activist Milind Mulay’s queries revealed there were 97,747 leakages and 18,944 unauthorised water connections across the city. To make things worse, RTI activist Aziz Amreliwala’s query revealed that despite having launched a drive to install digital water meters across the city for equitable distribution and conservation of water, many of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) own offices, including the headquarters, are yet to install even the conventional analog meters.
Incidentally, in the case of an unmetered connection, the exact quantity of water consumption cannot be calculated and bills are charged on average usage, which only encourages the incidence of water theft throughout the city.
It was also revealed that while the hydraulic department advocates use of alternative water sources — including drawing water from bore wells, tube wells and rain water harvesting — to reduce dependence on drinking water supply, not a single ward office had taken any such initiative.
When RTI activist Rajeev Datta filed an application to figure trends of water consumption in Thane, he found that in 2009, the corporation received 40, 20,00,000 litres per day. And although the amount of water required by Thane city was 32,00,40,000 litres per day.
Anyone would imagine that there would be an excess of supply given the figures and the differnece. In 2011 again, TMC received 422 million litres daily against a daily requirement of 404 million litres. And, although data available indicated water should be available in abundance, there was a perennial water crisis in the city.
Water is filled in tankers and supplied to many institutions and housing societies while the pipes through which water is supplied to homes and commercial places in and around Thane are broken at several spots and water theft happens randomly. So, residents pay water tax and spend money on tankers too as the TMC supply water remains irregular.
Most leakages are reportedly found in the western suburbs as for the same period, the eastern suburbs had the most number of unauthorised connections.
The first seven months of 2010, which saw the most acute water crisis in recent times, also witnessed as many as 14,230 leakages and 4,805 unauthorised water connections. Andheri-East (K-East ward) area has 10,436 leakage points and Malad (P-North ward) has found 9,400 leakage points. Maximum unauthorised water connections were found in Govandi, Chembur (M-East ward), Kurla (L-ward), Malad (P- North ward) and Byculla (E Ward).
Not surprisingly, the BMC’s hydraulic department blames the leakages on the fact that the pipelines are old and dilapidated. The department said the old pipelines cannot hold the pressure and the city is getting water with low pressure. The problem will be solved once the old pipes are replaced, the official added.
So, although the BMC went on to ‘cut’ illegal water connections till November 2009, only one case has been disposed of in the period. Since the BMC is not empowered to prosecute offenders for theft and pilferage, civic officials have to file an FIR in each case at the local magistrate’s court in whose jurisdiction the crime occured.
This is a distinct nexus between slum-dwellers, water mafia, politicians and bureaucrats. Civic officials maintain that action against illegal connections is taken routinely: “We act against illegal connections, seizing illegal booster pumps and so on.’’ But senior officials from the hydraulic department said till the century-old pipelines are replaced, wastage would continue. And, water lost through leaks tend to account for 20 per cent of the loss.
Water appears to be pilfered from many of these points and sold at a high rate in the slums. And, it appears that it is in the new, post-95 slums that the number of illegal connections have risen.
Slum dwellers provided water on an illegal basis land up paying 30 times more than BMC charges.
Local corporators and their henchmen run virtual water mafias in slums as they sell water connections in connivance with the civic authorities and the police despite right to water being an extension of right to life.
Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-32010593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured on this page