Tag Archives | water

A Long Overdue Hike in Bangalore’s Water Prices

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) recently hiked its water tariff, a move that was long overdue.  I am quoted in Citizen Matters on why this hike is a good move.

The hike in BWSSB’s water tariff is a welcome development that was long overdue. BWSBB has been a national leader in the professional delivery of water supply and sewerage services, and it is no accident that Bangalore has the largest number of metered water connections in the country.

Water is an increasingly scarce resource in the 21st century, and pricing it at its highest marginal cost is essential to conserving this vanishing resource. While we talk about excessive or misdirected LPG and petrol subsidies, the water subsidy that even the most prosperous Bangalore receives is much higher.

The higher price of water will also spur more people to do rainwater harvesting and efficient use of water. We must also recognise that people pay many times more for water tankers – a small increase in BWSSB tariffs could in fact reduce overall water cost for the city’s residents.
[Citizen Matters: Should Bengalureans be grateful for BWSSB’s water rates? 11 November 2014]

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What right to whose water?

I write in Citizen Matters today about the futility of any right to water legislation:

(T)he provision of clean, adequate water to Bangalore’s residents has numerous challenges: resource management, administrative reform, infrastructure provision, financing and payment for scarce resources.

Will a legally enforceable right to water improve its provision in the city? Maybe a little, at the margin – in those few cases where accountability can be pinned to someone.

However, will the move for a right to water come with huge opportunity costs? Almost certainly. Each of the challenges listed above requires significant expenditure of political capital, it needs able leadership that can inspire sufficient trust in the city’s residents to walk them through the myriad challenges. Like the RTE, a right may come backed with funds from the union and state governments for adequate water provision, but again, the latter provision may be better achieved by forgoing the right and focusing instead on the attendant reforms.

Thanks to India’s overburdened courts, we have lost the right to justice while pursuing the right to education, food and more. No system can work if even 10 percent of the people have to approach the court for redressal. Rights are relevant when defaults are rare, possibly malicious and are within the capacity of the judicial system to enforce. Water supply provision hardly meets this criterion.

Spending public time and political capital on a morally superior right instead of a genuine effort at reforms is counterproductive. While pursuing the right to water, the chance at its universal provision may be lost.
[Citizen Matters, 25 July 2013]

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Introduce Crisis Pricing for Water

Bangalore appears to be heading an unprecedented water crisis with plummeting water levels in the KRS reservoir and weak river flows in the Hemavathi. Afshan Yasmeen from The Hindu tells us that the city may have only 20 days of water left, unless the rains relieve us:

Predicting that the city will plunge into unprecedented water crisis if it doesn’t rain in the next few days, the official said at least 2.6 tmcft water is needed to cope till the monsoon arrives. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has also been briefed, the official said.

“If more water from the Hemavathi is not released, we may have to draw water from the dead storage. This requires preparation and precautions as it will be the first time that the dead storage will be touched,” the official said.

Pointing out that Bangalore needs 1,250 mld, he appealed to people to use water judiciously. “We also want people to come up with suggestions on how to manage the situation,” he added. The Hindu, May 16, 2013
[Emphasis added]

With all of Bangalore’s water woes, it must be mentioned that the city has a better history of water management than most other places in India. Managing water is not just about ensuring supply, but also includes the management of demand – of ensuring that people do not waste precious, scarce resources. For one, Bangalore remains one of very few cities in the country which has metered the water connections of most of its residents, ensuring that there is volumetric pricing for water – where people only pay as per the amount of water they use.

Unfortunately, this is far from sufficient. Though water has been priced, it isn’t sufficient to recover even the operational costs of supplying water – let alone manage demand effectively. Though the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has a slab-wise increasing tariff, even the most profligate of consumers pay only Rs. 36 per 1000 litres of water. In comparison, the BWSSB ends up spending about Rs. 48* for the same amount – essentially giving a subsidy of at least 12 rupees per kilo-litre to the richest of Bangaloreans.

Pricing water is always a contentious issue, with politicians and officials wary about increasing tariffs for fear of a popular backlash. However, Bangalore is facing a severe crisis here and every drop of water saved counts. If the state has to draw water from the dead storage at KRS, the costs will be tremendously higher. It is only fair that the users of this water bear their fair share of the costs, instead of off-loading them onto the taxpayer.

It is imperative that the government introduces crisis pricing of water and hike up the rates to ensure its judicious use. Every unit of water from BWSSB that gets wasted is another unit of water that needs to be bought from water tankers – at five to ten times the price. By increasing the municipal tariffs and preventing people from using water for frivolous things like daily car washing, the state can actually up reducing the total cost people spend on domestic water in Bangalore.

We pay more for fruits and vegetables when they are not in season, and we pay even more for them when they are in very short supply. Already there is increasing consensus for introducing electricity prices that are time-dependent: where consumption during peak load hours is more expensive than the rest. Why shouldn’t we pay more for water in the summer, and even more when the city is facing an unprecedented crisis? It is time to let the residents of the city pitch in during a time of trouble.

*The approximate costs for the operational cost of supplying water, after leakage and distribution losses. This does not include all the expenses on building the supply infrastructure, nor does it factor in the externality of pollution and loss to the ecology of the river basin that the supply of water causes.

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