The In-achievable Election Promise
When AAP, the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) included the promise of 700 liters free water and cheap electricity in their election manifesto, little did they realize that this bugbear would start breathing down their neck very quickly? Who had thought that this budding party would end up dislodging the decades old political equations and take over the seat of power in Delhi; even they themselves did not? Nevertheless, these troubled waters are in their backyard now.
Water is the most vital resource in the lives of people, and it can become a very touchy point indeed. Nevertheless, when the opposition, the shocked and dumbfounded opposition, is at AAP’s throat demanding fulfillment of the election promise, it is obvious that the venom of jealousy is operating rather than the genuine concern for the people. Opposition and their cronies, the media, passed the diktat that free water must be made available within days; otherwise, the promise was as bad as broken; shamelessly disregarding the fact that they themselves could not accomplish this in decades of rule.
Leaving the politics aside, the issue is genuine and challenging. The water shortage is further handicapped because its transmission and distribution can only be as good or as bad as the infrastructure in Delhi is. Like in many other cities, successive governments in Delhi ignored water management while they were galloping towards prosperity, in haste. The challenges are much the same everywhere. Buildings already exist and the roads bind them together. There are no space margins for additional external services; be it water, floodwater disposal, sewerage, electricity feeders or even the wire line cables. The solution, a permanent one, expects re-fabrication of the infrastructure, to accommodate pipelines of all kinds. For water, ideally there should be at least two separate incoming pipelines, one for drinking water and the other for other uses. There should also be an explicit outlet for the disposal of the used water. All this can be done only as part of the bigger picture, the urban development; a topic that needs independent treatment. So how is AAP going to tackle the present day water predicament?
“Oops, did we miscalculate the challenge, should we have underplayed it, was there any need to be specific in numbers etc,” are the questions that hammer the AAP minds now. Arvind Kejriwal, the quickly maturing Chief Minister, clever as he is, being an IITian (an alumni of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur), gave a minor twist to the promise. He put a rider that only those who consume less than 700 liters of water per family per month would stay entitled to this promised benefit. All the others, even those who consume 701 liters, will pay for the entire quantity of 701 litres. He claimed that this embargo would enforce people to reduce consumption; an argument that stands to reason. He also took the stand that water control by this methodology would force the water thieves to get meters installed, and claim legitimate concessions. Because of these steps and arguments, the revenue for the government may increase in spite of supplying free water to people.
Citizens must understand that this promise could not have been more than conditional. Yet, all that can be done now is for the government to provide subsidy to cover the expense on water usage and reach out to far-flung areas by re-routing commissioned water tankers.
Having said all the above, the point is how can a government improve the water situation in cities that are in place for decades. Here is what the government needs to do, and every item listed here under has a dependency relationship with the others. A consolidated project plan is required to define task dependencies, and this plan must become a part of the overall urban development plan.
What needs to be achieved
• Minimal supply – Life sustaining quantities of water should be made available up to the last individual or family in the pipeline. The UNO defines drinking water as something that fosters life, and its denial is a violation of citizen’s birthright.
• Quantity required – The quantity should not have been specified in the promise. It was un-necessary. Having said that, Arvind Kejriwal need not stand perfect in this commitment, for citizens who have done without water for decades could do with minimal water that comes to them with ease in the future. The primary aim of the commitment should be to supply about 500 litres of water daily to all households that come under the jurisdiction of this scheme.
• Separate streams required – Drinking water should undergo sufficient processing before distributing. It may be supplied through pipelines, not very large in diameter, and at pressure that is low. Water for other uses, such as gardening, washing and kitchen, could be supplied from a separate reservoir. This water needs only filtration but no chemical treatment. It could be supplied in bulk in larger pipelines that may not terminate in individual metering devices, but only in common meters. The consumption should be averaged out for a given locality, and charged equally.
• Tariff – There is no justification or logic in the supply of free water. The tariff must be defined in blocks of usage per installed meter, provided the meters are installed, calibrated and are working in every residential or workplace unit.
• Finally, the time schedule for implementing these changes should not have been in days, but in years.
• Humongous quantities required – To cater for the transmission and distribution losses, DJB – the Delhi Jal Board, an organisation established to take care of water management in Delhi, needs to pump about 1000 liters (drinking + other) water into every household every day. With millions of households, this is a steep requirement.
• Additional water required – It is obvious that additional water supply must come from other states. Inter-state water transfer is the subject matter for consideration by the Union government, which is presently a different political party than the Delhi state. The CM may twist the Union Government’s arms by reducing the water supply in the Lutyen area (a posh area in thousands of acres, in the centre of Delhi) and have it redistributed to the other areas.
• Water quality is deplorable – The standard drinking water quality in Delhi is so poor that filters and chemical processing devices need replacement rather too often. The government may think about installing heavy duty processing modular filters and plants in every tower of a condominium or in common location for a community.
• Disposal after usage – nearly all the water that comes to a household is returned as waste water. With streamlined and increased supply, additional sewerage capacity will have to be built. Delhi’s current waste water treatment is a national disgrace. How will it handle the extra waste water?
• Legal issues – For dwelling units in the settlement areas, or in squatter settlements, supply of regulated water may amount to giving legal rights to unauthorized colonies. Settlements should be regularized only after they have been give all the necessary basic amenities like sanitation, drinking water and electricity. This becomes a part of the urban development plan, and it is not a water management issue.
Routing and Distribution – Pipelines
In the city of Delhi, water does not reach the premises of many consumers or even to the community dispensing points. In the last 15 years of rule, the rulers could not or did not route water pipelines. Some even say that this letdown was not because of lack of project resources, planning or real estate availability for routing but it was probably intentional. Water shortage is an additional source of revenue through back doors. Crony businesses could be called in to supply water through water tankers, ensuring that water supply is differential; more to the affluent and scanty to the poor, practically negligible for those who live below poverty level. The rich can afford to pay a heavy price for this rare but vital commodity and enable sustenance of the water tankers business with hefty profits. In a way, such a situation is a blessing in disguise for re-organising the water distribution. Water tankers can be diverted and routed to areas where pipelines do not exist.
How this Commitment should be Handled
Usually complex projects are handled by splitting them into two categories, as follows:
Quick fix Options
• Ensuring regular water supply to areas where the pipelines already exist. This implies that all the pumping motors installed by the consumers must be removed, banned and erring individuals punished by cutting off their water connection. No digging of bore wells to be allowed inside the Delhi NCR region, and these machines must be banned entry into the Delhi NCR region. This way the entire water would become available for equitable distribution.
• Giving first priority for the tanker supply, for now and for always, to those areas where the government has not been able to install the distribution pipelines. As the pipelines become available, progressively the water tankers must be re-routed. In areas where the water pressure in the pipelines is low due to losses, the supply may be augmented using the tankers. The water must be pumped into the overhead tanks and billed like normal water supply. It should not be distributed to buckets.
• Making the tariff a bit stiff so that the water consumption gets normalized. Tariff should address blocks of consumption progressively; eg free supply for up to 10,000 liters per month per meter, medium rates for 10-20,000 liters, and stiff rates for consumption higher than 20,000 litres. These blocks include drinking and other water. No other parameter should influence the tariff, like the locality, minority predominance, un-regularized colonies, and satellite cities or areas lying inside the lal-dora (periphery of a village) etc.
Long Range Plans
• Augmenting the fresh water supply – Until concrete population control measures are introduced, for which the possibility is bleak, the government will be striving to provide water to more and more citizens. This requires more fresh water to be available. Measures that help increasing the supply of fresh water should be encouraged, and these should be well supported by budgetary provisions. For example, deforesting must be strictly stopped, additional trees should be planted, and the standard watershed management programme should be pursued diligently.
• Proximity to water bodies – Residences must be sited near the water bodies so that no extra water transmission becomes necessary. This reduces transmission losses and it saves on energy required for pumping.
• Splitting the water streams – Water is required in different purity levels. At least three distinctions are possible; drinking, home usage and gardening. In a country where even one pipeline is not established for the consumers, splitting the supply in two different streams will be an engineering marvel; yet this is desirable.
• Ascertaining the cause for shortage – It must be clearly ascertained for different localities, whether the shortage is due to rise in population (permanent, mobile or immigrant), scarcity of fresh water, mismanagement and neglect, or lack of vision; probably all these reasons apply.
• Water recycling – Recycling of water should be planned, and residences or offices must be designed and constructed accordingly. The sad part of the story is that even in newly constructed complexes water conservation ideas are not implemented. Then, how can we expect that the existing buildings would be modified?
• Consumer premises controls – Taps, showers, and faucets should be so installed that water is discharged at low volumes and pressures. In high-rise buildings, the taps must have a provision for discharge to vary in inverse proportion to the pressure. As we go down the levels, pressure-reducing valves must be installed at the inlets. When pressure increases due to any reason, the orifice of the tap should reduce, automatically. Builders should be given subsidies for installing these types of water discharge devices.
• Urban re-organization – Installation of pipelines and the localised elevated water tanks cannot be undertaken in isolation. They must become part of the master plan that considers all external services, roads etc in an integrated manner. ‘Will Green Buildings Help’, is a question that requires a separate analysis.
Pre-requisites for long range plans
• The jurisdiction of this water management scheme should be clearly defined on the detailed map of the Delhi NCR region. Adjoining areas that are not covered under the scheme should be listed separately.
• Households that will be affected or dislodged temporarily during the execution of the plan for more than a month must be notified at least three months in advance. If required suitable compensation or subsidies may be provided for this inconvenience.
• NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) and other bodies must provide drawings and layout diagrams of the existing and proposed pipelines for water and sewerage, electricity feeders and transformer locations, highways, flyovers, roads and streets, and communication towers for wireless operations.
• Short term (fire fighting) and long-term plans must be formulated in a way that hindrances like land acquisition or evacuations are not thrown up when the project starts.
• Every item of the project plan must be cost with 10 percent prorate (unfinished items) cost escalations and the budget plan should be prepared for the three years of execution period. In addition, budget should be planned for the future maintenance.
Organisation of the task force
• A task force must be established for an initial period of three years with a provision to merge it later with an appropriate establishment
• Corrupt officials must be replaced with honest but knowledgeable individuals. If the recently proposed paradigm of Remodeled Socialism is adopted, knowledgeable and experienced people from the society could be roped in to assist in the execution of the task. For this purpose, engineers and experienced administers will be suitable. The citizens deployed, from the outside, on this project should not act like spies, snoopers, or auditors but as champions and advisers to solve the impending issues.
• Legal experts must give opinion on how the imponderables of the law can be avoided. If required suitable ordinances may be promulgated.
Project Budget and Funding
The AAP’s water promise, in its present form, could prove to be a disaster for Delhi. Yet if this vote bank policy or the communist paradigm is to be supported, the government will have to arrange for funds.
Multiple departments appear to be getting involved in the pursuit of the water commitment. Although privatization of services has not generally shown any remarkable success, there is still a case for privatising the Delhi Jal Board. This might be the best way to usher in accountability.
Under the PPP model of funding, open tenders should be floated to appoint at least three different financiers for the task and all should furnish a bank guarantee for the contract. It should be ensured that the contract would not extend beyond three years and the maintenance (revenue funded) activities will be retained by the government departments. If maintenance is to be outsourced, the tenure of this activity should not be more than 5 years per contract and service tax should not be more than 5 percent.
Allied Hopes for the Citizens
Arvind Kejriwal may like to turn attention to the fact that almost 160000 Crores are consumed by the central government as subsidy for just three welfare schemes (Mid-day Meals, MNREGA and Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan). How much of this amount trickles down to the end-user has been criticized by the leaders of the ruling party itself. If the share of the Delhi state for these schemes is placed directly at the disposal of the CM, substantial funds will become available for deployment in water management projects.
The golf club, housed in 250 acres of prime land, the posh Lutyen area, is valued at about Rs 60,000 Crores. The government is charging rental from the members at a very meager rate amounting to only about Rs 15 Lacs per year. Should this rental value not be in the range of Rs 6,000 Crores per year? Something similar can be stated about the Gymkhana Club. The club receives a subsidy of Rs 1.5 Crores every year. According to an RBI (Reserve Bank of India) assessment the total non-performing assets of the Banks in India are in the range of Rs 1.6 Lac Crores, a really mind boggling figure. A prudent mind will consider re-allocating of these funds to life critical projects like the water management.