At the mercy of private tankers in Pune

Pune’s water supply is largely intermittent   -  S Subramanium

The residents of Palace Orchard Cooperative Housing Society in Undri area of Pune shell out ₹35- 40 lakh per year to buy water. Since 1996, this Society, housing about 1,200 residents (say, ₹1,000 per household per month, assuming four members), awaits adequate water supply from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The residents had declared that they would boycott the recent Lok Sabha elections whereupon politicians across party lines rushed to the Society, promising to resolve the water crisis immediately. The Society voted, elections got over, and the politicians vanished. Today, the residents continue to struggle for water and are dependent on water tankers.

The city’s water supply is largely intermittent and unequal, with maximum of 20 hours of supply in Dhole Patil road area, minimum of 2 hours in Yerawada and hardly 20-30 minutes in fringe areas including Wadgaon Sheri and Kharadi. The civic body has not been able to streamline water supply and blames the city’s topography. As a result of the unequal water supply there is excessive ground water extraction from 399 dug wells and 4,820 bore wells in the city.

An estimated 5,000 water tankers ply the city daily. Dug wells and borewells are controlled by the tanker lobby that, not surprisingly, comprises politicos across party lines. Many corporators run the tanker business.

“We are already paying water tax to the civic body and we are also paying for water tankers. Paying water bills is becoming impossible,” says Bhavika Shroff, resident of Palace Orchard Society. “Besides, it’s not fit for drinking” she says. But this is not the only apartment complex that is paying a huge amount for water. Thousands of societies in the Pune municipal limits buy water as the civic body is not in a position to cater to their drinking water needs.

But buying water is not an option for about 14 lakh people living in Pune’s slums. They have to depend on the corporation’s water as they cannot afford tankers. In India, the number of people living in urban areas is expected to grow to around 800 million by 2050. The demands of a rapidly industrialising economy and urbanising society come at a time when the potential for augmenting supply is limited, water tables are falling and water quality issues have increasingly come to the fore.

Parched Marathwada

The wait for water is still worse in the parched region of Marathwada. In the scorching heat, dozens of women from Pachod village in Aurangabad district strain to catch every single drop of water dripping from a pipeline that carries water from the Jayakwadi dam to Jalna city. In a drought, this is the only source of water for the poor as they can’t afford to buy water from private tanker owners who charge ₹2,000 for 5,000 litres of water.

“You can’t drink this water,” says Rahul Pardhe, a youth from Sarangpur village in Aurangabad as he opens the cover of one of the plastic cans kept in the village square. The government tanker comes occasionally and releases water into plastic cans kept by the villagers. The water is muddy and salty, not drunk even by cattle, say villagers. To get clean water they will have to buy water from private water tanker owners.

In Aurangabad city, private water tankers with carrying capacity of 2,000 litres cost ₹500-700. In rural areas, a water tanker with carrying capacity of 5,000 litres costs ₹2,000. The charge for tankers multiplies in remote villages. Water tanker owners rule the roost in the parched Marathwada region. Almost all private tanker owners are connected with political parties. Interestingly, the government has allocated the work of free water supply to contractors affiliated with politicians.

Published on June 18, 2019

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