By Shreyas Sardesai & Biswajit Mohanty
Months after failing to win a single seat in the Lok Sabha elections in May, the AAP government in Delhi took two back to back decisions on electricity and water. On August 1, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that households consuming up to 200 units of electricity would not have to pay electricity bills, and that those consuming between 200 and 400 units would get a 50% subsidy.
On August 27, he announced a one-time waiver of arrears on water bills and an exemption from late payment fee, provided consumers get functional meters installed. This was in addition to the already existing water subsidy scheme that provides households 20,000 litres of water free of cost every month.
While both decisions were ostensibly taken to provide relief to consumers and bring more of them into the billing network, many, especially the opposition, saw a political motive ahead of the 2020 Assembly polls. Three months on, an opinion survey among 2,298 Delhi voters, conducted between November 22 and December 3, 2019 by the Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), attempts to establish to what extent people benefitted from the announcements, and how their perception of the government changed as a result.
In the survey, 83% of respondents reported that their households get water through the tap, while the rest reported having to fetch it from outside, mostly from water tankers (table 1). Respondents who reported getting piped water supply were asked whether they were paying more or less as compared to earlier. Over two-thirds either said their water bills had decreased or become zero (table 2).
While low income households were more likely than high income households to report a decrease in water bills (particularly zero bills), among the latter too, two-thirds said their water bill had decreased or become zero. The reporting of decreased bills was found to cut across all segments of society and all types of areas — low and high income.
The survey subsequently asked voters whether they had benefited from the recent announcement by the Delhi government to waive water arrears. Over three in every five (61%) respondents reported that their households had indeed benefited from the announcement.
Respondents were also asked whether there has been an improvement in water supply and the quality of drinking water being supplied to their area. While nearly three fourths (72%) either reported an improved or ‘good as before’ water supply, when it came to the quality of drinking water, the results were’t as positive. While 56% said the quality of drinking water in their area had either improved or was as good as earlier (table 3), a sizeable 41% reported a deteriorated or poor water quality.
This finding is significant in the context of the face-off between the Delhi government and the Central government over the quality of drinking water in Delhi. The survey was conducted when the verbal battle between the BJP and the AAP over the Bureau of Indian Standards report was at its peak.
The survey found dissatisfaction with the quality of drinking water to be greatest among residents living in the surveyed areas of East Delhi, New Delhi, North East Delhi and South Delhi. About 7% of the voters in the survey explicitly stated (in response to an open-ended question) that water-related problems are going to be the single-biggest voting issue for them during the assembly poll; this sentiment was found to be particularly strong among voters who do not have a water connection at home and have to fetch it from outside.
Asked whether their electricity bills had decreased in the last few months, over three-fourths (77%) of the respondents either reported a decrease or a zero bill (table 5), while one in every five either reported an increase or a status quo. Again, this finding cut across all income groups and residential areas, although lower income households and slum areas were more likely to have seen their power bills decrease in the last few months.
As far as electricity supply is concerned, nearly nine of out ten (87%) respondents reported an improved situation in their area and another 5% said it was as good as before (table 3). Respondents in East Delhi were, however, more likely than those in other parts to report deterioration in power supply to their area.
(Shreyas Sardesai is Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS. Biswajit Mohanty is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi. He is also the State Coordinator of Lokniti-CSDS in Delhi.)