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"Water and a City" - discussions following the screening

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The movie brought out the scenario fairly well, but which most on Praja are quite aware of.

During the discussions that followed, I brought up the matter of the reported 40% odd losses, largely on account of the inefficiencies/ mismanagement in distribution (compared to less than 10% in an efficient system), and followed it up with a suggestion "if the kind of contract entered into between Mysore City Corporation and JUSCO, was not the way to address the issue?".

Prof Mohan Kumar (Civil Engg Dept, IISc) responded saying a study/ survey had been conducted by L&T and Anglian Waters (or, one of the other foreign players - I am not quite sure which) a few years back covering some parts of Bangalore (I thought I heard the name Fraser Town mentioned) at a cost of Rs 32 crores - did he mention World Bank funded?. He did not mention if any work was actually undertaken. But, went on to add that it raised all kinds of technical issues, like "how do you replace the pipes in an area like Avenue road, etc?"

Rs 32 cr just for the study/ survey - as compared to Rs 194 cr (with the JUSCO deal being for Rs 102 cr) for modernising the entire Mysore city system over a 6-yr period? So, is that where the problem lies, even to begin with - engaging foreign firms at the instance of World Bank? In which case, doesn't our home grown JUSCO provide the answer? And, as for 'technical issues' connected with replacing pipes in Avenue road, etc, I can't see why these should be seen as issues at all, when we are undertaking far more challenging tasks today with relative ease.

However, more distressing was the response of the moderator - a young lady who identified herself as an economist. She labelled my suggestion as a demand for 'privatisation', and went on to talk about the inequity it would result in. When I tried to say that it was only 'outsourcing' that I was suggesting with a view to improving the efficiency (check this), she would have none of it, and was eager to shift the discussion to other matters, parhaps in the belief that discussing anything even remotely involving the private sector in the hallowed precincts of IISc was blasphemy (The irony is that JUSCO is a TATA entity, and amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the profits that the house of TATAs make, is the IISc). The problem apparently is that academics are afraid of being seen as politically incorrect.

Mr Krishna Byre Gowda (MLA)'s response that people will not accept 'privatisation', was equally distressing, even with the the Mysore Grahakara Parishad, arguably the foremost think-tank in Mysore, having more or less endorsed the deal - check this). Either he has also not bothered to go into the details of the arrangement, or he is only interested in playing to the galleries. Well, the water problem is already on us with its full impact, and he should realise it's better to talk straight atleast now than continuing to tell people only what they want to hear. He, in fact, went on to add that his Assembly constituency would turn a water surplus area just by people accepting water-metering. When I intervened to say that that's where leadership counted, he went on to respond that "it's easy for people to pass such remarks from the sidelines", in effect saying that he is forced to continue bluffing the janata. But, for all his 'popular' ways, Mr Gowda is slowly beginning to lose his hold on the constituency if one is to go by the recent election results.

On the question of bringing water supply under BBMP, as envisaged under the proposed 'City Governance Bill', Mr Krishna Byre Gowda was not exactly quite supportive, saying that it will only lead to endless debates and no decisions. Well, that has exactly been the argument against de-centralisation so far, but which, after a lot of informed debate, the polity had finally rejected after taking all the pros and cons into consideration. Apparently, Mr Krishna Byre Gowda is still in the old mind-set.

The documentary had mentioned about the increasing incidence of closing down of public taps. Mr Thangaraj, former Principal Secretary, UDD, justified the action, citing the instance of some three public taps on Commercial street, that were being put to commercial use. The question that arises here is "wouldn't there be a better check on such matters if the supply came under the purview of the local corporator?"

Mr Thangaraj mentioned that BWSSB had made some commendable strides, in that the entire BIAL complex was built using recycled water from the Yelehanka waste water treatment plant. And, that industrial complexes like BEL, Wheel & Axle plant, ITC, etc were also using the same for their process requirements.

That certainly is the way to go, I may add.
There was a suggestion that commercial borewell yield should be measured and a stiff charge should be levied on its basis. More practical in my opinion would be ensure a separate power connection and levy a stiff charge on the electrical energy consumed.

Such a meet of course can't be complete without the now ubiquitous talk of RWH and the need for its widespread implementaion.

Others present may want to want to add their remarks?


murali772's picture

not worthwhile?

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If by engaging the services of a JUSCO, the losses can be brought down to the acceptable 10% (or lower) level, from the current 40% (or higher), an extra 300 MLD becomes available (the total quantum being pumped in by BWSSB being nearly 1000 MLD) for distribution. Even at the nominal recovery rate of Rs 12/- per KL, this translates to an additional annual revenue of Rs 130 cr. Doesn't that kind of money, apart from the social benefits, make the effort worth the while?

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

Advisor's advice

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Apart from the constitutional mandate, it is neither fair nor practical to keep elected representatives away from dealing with a basic amenity like water. Citizens are also bound to approach their corporator to redress grievances about such an issue. It is, therefore, logical that the responsibility of supplying water to their constituents should rest with the elected local body.

Once the BBMP assumes responsibility, it will realize that the answer to the city’s water problem is not just in digging borewells, but looking at various other options such as water conservation, recycling and preventing losses. The debate in the council would, in future, hopefully focus on water management.

For the full report in the TOI, click here

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