Study blames BMC for Mumbai’s water woes

Complete absence of water consumption mapping, lack of planning and mismanagement of water systems plague the civic agency, says ORF Mumbai report


Geetanjali Minhas | November 7, 2012

Country’s richest civic body with an annual budget of Rs 25,581 crore for the year 2012-2013, the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has no system of calculating water consumption data for its 24 ward boundaries, rendering water consumption calculations mere of a guess work, says a report by Dhaval Desai titled ‘Time Is Running Out: Does Mumbai Have Enough Water?’ brought out by Observer Research Foundation Mumbai.

While BMC’s revenue income from water and sewerage charges is Rs 4,446 crore, it has 31 different funds for ‘Asset Upgrade’ which have never been used. Against a demand of 4200 MLD (million litre per day), it supplies 3430 MLD water, leading to a demand-supply gap of 770 MLD. Despite increase in water supply by 192.7% over decades, water availability per person has reduced by 23.6% due to incredible population growth. While Mumbai’s population of 12.4 million is expected to reach 16 million in 2021, the demand for water is projected to increase to 5400 MLD by the same year. “Despite source augmentation, the situation may worsen in 2025 if anticipated demand increases,” says the report.

The report observes that lack of planning and mismanagement are making it difficult to finance some of BMC’s planned projects. Its 62% slum population has limited or no access to basic amenities. Personal interviews with slum dwellers during study revealed that illegal water connections were given in exchange of votes on many occasions. Nearly 3 million people live in irregularised slums and law does not permit them basic civic amenities including municipal water and sanitation. They get their daily quota either by theft or via illegal connections which are secured with the help of local corporators, ward engineers and licensed plumbers who work in a nexus. This situation has given rise to tanker mafia who charge exorbitant rates of up to Rs 15 for a 5 litre jerrycan of water and up to Rs 18-20 in summer while residents with legal connections pay next to nothing.

Coming down heavily on its flawed water pricing and cheap availability, the report criticizes BMC for  charging mere Rs 3.50 per 1000 litres of water to domestic consumers, when a litre  of bottled water costs Rs 15 or more. Additionally it points out that “average consumer in Mumbai pays less than one paisa (0.0035) per litre of BMC water. Same quantity of water is provided for Rs 2.50 in slums and domestic consumers in rural Maharashtra pay nearly double the amount paid by Mumbai consumers per 1000 litres of water.”

“Nearly free provision of water by BMC to its citizens has created a sense of disregard among consumers for this limited natural resource as most of them do not value what is available for free,” it says.

Further 60% of BMC’s revenue is earned from its bulk consumers who avail of only eight percent of total water, residential buildings and societies receive 67% water supply while remaining 25% is supplied to slums from where it collects only six percent of its total revenue. Recommending review of its pricing model and balancing it, especially in case of slum dwellers, by providing better sanitation services, the study observes that reduction of revenues from commercial users will reduce BMC’s ability to cross subsidize and provide cheaper water to poorer customers.

Observing its uneven distribution of water, the report points that eastern suburbs with large number of industrial establishments receive 37% less water than the city with almost eight million fewer residents. “This means that wards in south Mumbai with gradual decline in population and saturation of commercial activity are being provided with much more than required water than heavily populated and rapidly developing eastern and western suburbs.”

As per its own admission, BMC has unaccounted for water (UFW) loss to the tune of 20-25% i.e. 700 MLD, which means that Mumbai wastes more water than Pune’s per day total water supply of 650 MLD. This figure may be as high as 30-35% in reality. Water theft due to breaching of supply pipes, or through illegal connections, are other factors for high levels of theft and loss of revenue to BMC. High level of water is wasted due to leaks and bursts, inaccurate detection and time-consuming procedural obstacles for fixing them. BMC’s leak detection cell is defunct for the past 10 years.

Additionally 15-20% (160 MLD) of city water (UFW) is stolen by private water tankers estimated to be around 10,000 in numbers with a minimum carrying capacity of 10,000 litres each. Most tankers make multiple daily trips and charge an average of Rs 4000 per tanker. “BMC is blatantly allowing illegal profits amounting to Rs 4 crore per day and 1460 crore annually,” it says and recommends that BMC must prepare a comprehensive and watertight five-year plan with urgent priority focusing purely on  controlling leaks and bursts instead of going in for  heavy capital intensive source augmentation schemes.

“With a surplus budget of Rs 1,000 crore, its hydraulic engineering department is its most profit-making division but suffers staff shortage of 40% where only a small fraction is experienced. No fresh recruitments have taken place in its hydraulic department for the last 16 years. Out of its total 12,015 posts, 4,999 are lying vacant,” the report says.

“(Low levels of) corruption in its hydraulic department has discouraged retention of good talent. In the last four years, BMC’s hydraulic department has seen nine different chiefs. There have been instances in the past when engineers with little or no prior experience of hydraulic engineering department have been posted as its chiefs. The department is bereft of ownership and sustained accountability,” the study highlights.

Calling for immediate organizational reforms  to empower and make accountable its hydraulic engineering department and training and retention of its talent, the report says, “Municipal Commissioner and Additional Municipal Commissioners have authority to sanction expenditure of up to Rs 10 lakh, the Chief Hydraulic Engineer who is  solely responsible for water supply  is empowered to sanction expenses of up to Rs 10,000 and water department assistant engineer, who is responsible for water supply to an entire ward, has authority to sanction a paltry Rs 250!  This means that expenditure for most basic works have to be sanctioned by standing committee which has more pressing issues than to deal with leaking pipes.”

Damning the civic body for not acting upon long-term recommendations of the Chitale Committee Report in 1994, the findings point out a backlog of 15-20 years on public infrastructure work by local and state government agencies and raises questions about decisions involving massive expenditure of public funds in the name of source augmentation and sustainability. In addition to the central government assistance and international aid that it gets for source augmentation and maintenance of the distribution system, BMC collects an annual revenue of nearly Rs 2,275 crore from water and sewerage charges to citizens.

The report says that BMC has not installed flow meters in ward boundaries and because of that precise data of ward level water supply is not available.

“This implies that BMC does not know how much water is currently being supplied to, either residents or businesses, which is indeed worrisome.”

Pointing to complete absence of consumption mapping, it mentions that its 55 percent meters are not working. “BMC’s demand side issues like metering, which cost a fraction, better knowledge of pipeline network and precise study of city’s consumption pattern, needs to be strengthened concurrently with ongoing supply augmentation measures. While the supply side measures like construction of dams helps reduce distribution losses, and if implemented properly, provide sustainable long-term solutions that can be addressed merely by augmentation of water sources. In fact, source augmentation is neither sustainable not environment-friendly,” it says.

Taking  cognizance of the fact that there is no data or system in place to check hundreds of kilometres long underground of water pipelines, the report recommends GIS mapping of city’s complex underground pipeline network interlinked with SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) that gives real-time monitoring to increase efficiency and profitability of a utility along with bulk flow meters for measuring exact flow of water once it is released in distribution network at  all  major ward inlets.

Pointing to BMC’s annual environmental report card published in September 2010 that says water contamination has increased by nearly 100 percent in 2009-2010 compared to 2008-2009 and there is higher average contamination across all its wards in city, the report points that sewers and water pipelines running parallel in many parts of city potentially risk sewerage water seeping into water pipes through cracks and breaches. Additionally it recommends recycling of sewage water for secondary and non-potable use.

BMC’s rainwater harvesting (RWH) cell formed in 2002 made rain water harvesting mandatory for every new buildings with 1000 sq metre area and later in 2007 lowered the cut-off to 300 sq metre area. Between 2007 and 2012, out of 6855 new buildings that came up, 3847 did not have rainwater harvesting systems. The study calls for strengthening of RWH cell and regular checks against bacterial contamination in addition to taking strict action against builders for flouting RWH norms.

It strongly suggests that government must involve BMC water department before making future amendments to development plans or rules that have posed some of biggest challenges to it along with public awareness and involvement starting right from school level like elsewhere in the world.




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