Splashing out

AAP’s water policy ignores the poor,subsidises middle class,turns its back on the need for water reform.

Written by The Indian Express | Updated: January 9, 2014 3:51 pm

AAP’s water policy ignores the poor,subsidises middle class,turns its back on the need for water reform.

Starting today,the new government of Delhi will deliver on one of its biggest promises. Citizens can use up to 667 litres of water a day for nothing,what Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal calls “lifeline water”,a common claim to an essential resource. But despite the easy appeal of the policy,it is fiscally unwise,short-termist,and ignores the poor who lack access to piped water — nearly half of Delhi,given that there are only 17 lakh metered connections in the city. It lavishes free water upon those who can afford to pay,and should pay — given that there are costs involved in constructing reservoirs,maintaining pipelines,providing infrastructure and human resources. In effect,that tab will now be picked up by the state,and could involve cutting back public spending or imposing taxes on the average citizen. In the new water policy,any drop that exceeds the free amount,in the next slab of 20-30 kl,would entail a higher bill of Rs 870. Given that water meter readings are not difficult to manage,this steep tariff climb is an invitation to distortion and waste. Instead,a responsible government that knows Delhi’s water problem first hand would have tried to manage demand,and to expand the water grid to those who are not served.

The city is perennially parched,dependent on neighbouring Haryana,Punjab,UP and Uttarakhand. What makes it worse is systematic mismanagement of the resource — approximately 52 per cent of water is lost because of the Delhi Jal Board’s (DJB’s) leaky distributional pipeline. Genuine reform would involve bulk-metering systems,technology-aided monitoring at every stage,investment in treating and recycling water,improving pipelines and switching to a graded model that imposes a minimal cost on everyone,and climbs higher depending on use. It would involve bringing water to the seven lakh or so households that are now left out or dependent on an extractive tanker mafia,and making supply more reliable.

But the AAP,intent on keeping its ill-conceived promise,has misunderstood the very nature of Delhi’s water crisis. It may create temporary goodwill among the middle classes and impress future voters,but it will also create large costs for the (now-profitable) DJB to manage down the line,and actively encourage the profligate use of water.

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