The Gujarat government issued a resolution this week regularising “illegal water connections” in 170 cities and towns in the state, as part of the Nal se Jal yojana of the Centre.
What is the nature of illegal connections and volume in the urban centres in Gujarat?
There are 170 urban local bodies in Gujarat which have areas that do not have tap water connection. In such areas of small and big towns, residents have illegally punctured the main pipeline supplying water to residents of an area and are stealthy withdrawing water. These are those residents who have not made a formal application to their urban local body for a water connection, says Rajkumar Beniwal, commissioner of municipalities in Gujarat. The scheme is being undertaken as per the “Nal se Jal” scheme of the Union government where Gujarat has targeted to provide tap water connections to all households in the state by 2022.
Though government officials are tight-lipped about the number of illegal water connections that exist in the cities of Gujarat, a senior official of the urban development and urban housing department that is in charge of this regularisation scheme says, “The percentage of such illegal water connections will be small for larger municipal corporations, but this percentage could be higher for smaller cities. For instance, in Ahmedabad where 97 per cent of the households have tap water connections, about 2.5 per cent of which could be illegal. In some of the smaller cities or corporations this percentage of illegal connections could be more.”
In the eight municipal corporations and 162 municipalities of Gujarat, there are an estimated 30 lakh households that have tapped water connection. Of these, more than 17 lakh households are in the municipal corporations where the tap water connections touch between 85-97 per cent of the households.
What are the steps that government is taking to curb water thefts in urban areas?
According to a government resolution issued by Gujarat’s urban development and urban housing department on Wednesday, the government will regularise all illegal connections for water in Gujarat. This is, however, only for residential consumers and for those who are drawing water using half an inch diameter pipe. This regularisation process, which will go on four months till December 31, 2020, will however be done by imposing a penalty of Rs 500 per household.
“Till December, the government will not be imposing the heavy penalties mentioned under the existing laws regulating water thefts. Only Rs 500 is being charged so that maximum people come forward and self declare,” said Beniwal.
The Gujarat Domestic Water Supply (Protection) Bill, 2019 that was passed in the state legislature in July last year, safeguards the bulk water pipelines that carry water from Central and South Gujarat regions to water-scarce North Gujarat, Kutch and Saurashtra regions of the state. Under this law, punishments for damaging, destroying and defacing public water distribution system will invite a fine as high as Rs 1 lakh or equivalent to the damage caused. There is also a provision of imprisonment of up to two years.
What is the government’s reasoning behind this step?
“The idea is not to regularise illegality. But because water is essential, we are giving people, who are not getting it or are taking it illegally, a chance to acquire it legally. Electricity is provided in all areas of Gujarat, irrespective of title ownership and so a decision has been made to provide water too,” says the government official.
The government sees a few advantages of regularisation. When illegal connections are taken, those engaged in the act end up damaging the main pipelines. They also extract more water than what is legally permissible. Urban bodies take action against illegal water connections on an annual basis. However, once illegal connections are discovered and penalty imposed, the perpetrators once again dig up the main pipeline to source water illegally. Once connections are regularised, a large number of households will enter the water tax net of the government and will have to pay for the water consumed.
So what is the economics behind water supply in Gujarat?
Drinking water sourced from river Narmada is supplied to a total of 165 towns and cities in Gujarat. This is a revenue generator for the government. For every 1,000 litres of Narmada water supplied, the Gujarat government charges Rs 3.14 from each residential consumer. For the same quantum of water Rs 25.95 is charged from the industries. Farmers getting Narmada waters for irrigation have to pay Rs 328 per hectare every irrigation cycle.
Water stolen through illegal water connections are considered as “non-revenue” water. Through the current regularisation process the government wants to bring more households under the water-tax net. This move also bodes well for a government that is installing water meters for urban households.
It is part of multiple schemes being undertaken in the urban areas just ahead of the crucial polls scheduled for urban local bodies in Gujarat, whose terms expire at the end of this year.
How can a household having illegal water connection take advantage of the government’s offer?
This regularisation scheme is applicable only for illegal water connections where pipes supplying water into homes have a diameter of only half-an-inch. “As per the present Government of India norms, 140 litres per day per person is allowed in urban areas. So for a family of four, 500 litres per day is required, says the official. So any connection having a diameter of more than half an inch will be removed and pipe of correct diameter will be placed. If any household is found using a large pipe and diverting water for industrial use, then penalty will be imposed as per existing municipal laws,” the official says.
Under this scheme, a household with an illegal water connection will have to apply online and submit the penalty. This can be done on e-nagar portal for the municipalities, while the same application can be done on the respective municipal corporations’ website.
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