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How to solve inequity and corruption in BWSSB water distribution

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Water supply is a perennial problem in Bangalore. Very recently, there was an article published recently that hit close to home. THe author, Saritha Rai wrote "Most of India is fretting over a flop monsoon. In Bangalore, however, some are rejoicing that the rains have failed. They are the city’s dreaded water mafia." more hereOther articles recently have discussed the same issue. See DNA article here. Closer to home for me, a resident of the "Whitefield" area, Sheeja Nair discusses her travails here.

As a former "water manager" for my apartment community located on the outskirts of Bangalore, I can endorse from personal experience that there is a lot of truth to the articles.  Name a scam and we have seen it.  Bribe to the valve man.  Bribe demand from AE.  Water from the GLR (BWSSB Ground Level Reservoir) being taken in tankers, under the guise of supply to the "poor" and being given to apartments.  I was amused one day when a tanker supplier came to us offering water cheaper than the others.  He also had a lab test result for his water.  It met Cauvery water specs.  There is no way that was ground water. Last I heard, our valveman had also bought a tanker for supply.

Some other numbers.  Cauvery water costs around Rs8 per 1000 liters for a reasonable consumer.  Tanker water now costs more than65-70 Rs per kilo leter.  Price hikes are of the order of 18% a year!  Reliability of water supply from tankers is suspect.  A test of the water clearly shows that  it is very, very, very hard.  Our apartment, which spent under Rs 100000/- for water per month 4-5 years back when BWSSB water was available, now spends Rs 6,00,000/- with 20% of water from BWSSB and a big chunk of the remaining water from tankers.

What is the solution?

After observing these guys in action, some ideas for solutions that could move things in the right direction based on my experience

A. The first solution is to publish all customer details (type of customer, no of residential units, monthly consumption) data online for anyone to mine and see.  With data available, it will be a cinch to see aho gets how much water supply and data on who get s more and who gets less is easily established,Just the availability of data like this will make it easier to identify where the bribing is happening.

B.These guys thrive on UFW (unaccounted for water).which is either stolen water or unbilled water.  When you water meter breaks, the BWSSB will show no desire to repair it. They will just bill you based on past 6 months average consumption.  We got hit severely once when the meter conked out.  They billed us on past 6 months consumption and our water supply drastically dropped.  So not only we not getting the water, but we were getting billed for it! It tooks several months to get the meter replaced, which the customer has to pay for anyway,  make it mandatory through suitable rules or legislation to have the water meter replaced immediately by the BWSSB once a fault is identified, without the customer applying for it,. If a meter is broken down, it is an incentive for the people manning the system to do some gol maal.

C. The UFW number has to be published and some kind of strict method in place incentivising the engineers to minimze it. There is a need for more bulk flow meters and other arrangements to clearly identify how much water comes to various areas of the city ( to the GLRs) and to identify the supply from GLRs to various areas.

D. Apparently, the cost of pumping and supplying water to Bangalore works out to Rs 24 per kilo liter (must be more now).  The cost arbitrage between tanker water and Cauvery water is huge.  There is no need to subsidize the cost so much.  THere are many suggestions for a better way to bill water.  That has to be implemented. According to data some of the poorest areas end up paying Rs 300 per KL effectively for their potable water. Instead of trucking free water to such areas, it is imperative to supply reliable piped water and to bill them.



murali772's picture

rest of the debate, so far

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I will fill in with the mail exchanges that formed part of this debate over OneBengaluru Google-group, following Sanjay's posting of his opening remark:

It's not just apartment dwellers who are suffering. A friend of mine told me that a prominent hospital in Bangalore spends lakhs a month on water. When my friend's relative (newly promoted to management at the hospital) questioned the amount of money spent on water tankers, he got calls from thugs warning him to not ask questions. Even the management told him, "Keep quiet, or your life is in danger". If this is the state of a hospital, there's nothing left to be said.

Since water is in the hands of the water mafia, in a sense, water is already privatised, except that it is not done transparently and in a fair manner. The government should privatise water distribution so that 1) we will get 24/7 water and 2) we will not be at the mercy of random thugs. We'll have to pay more for water, but I'm guessing the rates won't be extortionate as they are with tankers.

The government itself (ie babus, ministers, etc) has no major incentive to improve water supply (or for that matter, power supply).

This also exposes the limitation of 'clean' politicians within corrupt politics. By media accounts the BWSSB minister is the only remaining honest person in this government, and at one point was considered for CM to help clean the BJP's image. If this is happening in his watch, imagine how deep the rot it.

We need the 'outside' interventions for such problems. No amount of internal effort is enough, since all internal persons are captive to the processes that have brought them there. If we want truly independent minded persons to represent us, then the processes by which they are selected have to be correspondingly independent too.

"The government should privatise water distribution"

The same applies to power supply too. We are all in the grips of the genset, inverter, converter, UPS lobby. Only its operations may be a bit more sophisticated than the water mafia. Sheila Dikshit liberated Delhi from their grip. She is now set to do the same on the water front. May be that's the route for us too.

Agree. The problem is that the word privatisation seems to be a bad word with government, and I think "outsourcing" is a better word to use, as your article says.

The government should stop demonizing the private sector. I would argue that once outsourcing of water distribution takes place, there will be even greater accountability - currently the government is not accountable at all.

Last year, we suddenly stopped getting water at home. When I went to the local BWSSB office, the person there simply told me, "Since it's only one building, it's your problem, not mine, I have bigger problems to worry about".

A friend had advised me to bribe the linesman and get the problem fixed (BWSSB had installed new water lines, and had shut off the old line from which we were getting water). Since I didn't want to pay a bribe, I didn't pay the linesman - this meant we were without municipal water for 9 months (paying for tankers instead).

Also, I know some folks at the world's 2nd largest irrigation company (which happens to be Indian). These guys can get deserts irrigated,  and they told me that it's very easy for them to offer 24/7 water supply, but there is no political will at all.

the authorities are not concentrating on the water leakages and transmission losses in the existing system. will it be fine if we start working in this direction..??

I grew up in Bangalore in the 1970s and 80s, we had erratic water supply then too. They've had decades to improve things, and they haven't. I don't trust the authorities to do anything. They don't have any incentive to do so.

You said it, CD! Just see how telecom, airlines, banking, insurance, etc turned world-class, in the matter of just a few years, after private players came onto the scene.

Whatever, there is no gainsaying the importance of an effective regulatory regime, and that is all the more reason why the government should be concentrating on that. Also, since this all important role as the regulator gets badly compromised when the government becomes a player in addition, as I have been repeating ad nauseum, it should start easing itself out of the role of the player, except where its presence is essential. Check here for more.

Muralidhar Rao
psaram42's picture


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We get BWSSB Water every alternate day between 6:30 to 9:30 PM. A few years back we had a problem. I had to write a complaint in the complaint book kept at the Jeeven Bima Nagar Water Tank office. The BWSSB person came to our house with two laborers when the supply was on. He told me that we have to pay labor charges of Rs2000/-. They dug up approximately at the Supply pipe location where our domestic line joins. When they opened up, they found a plastic bag on the main line which was stuck while entering our smaller dia pipe.

Though I resented giving 2000/- Rs I had no option. I was however suspicious as to how a plastic bag was there in the big pipe. Also if there wa s an official receipt I had no problem.

Now a days I am getting a lot of green leaves in the BWSSB Water. I think we need to keep our Corporater / MLAs informed about this. I will be talking to my corporater Sri Vijaykumar about the green leaves. 

Our BJP govenament is feeling shy to appoint a Lokaukta!!

By the way, BESCOM site is very professional, having a face book account. I wish all others like BWSSB also follow suit.

psaram42's picture

Privatizing water

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In Mysore it is privatized already by JUSCO . Looks like they are supplying bore well water, which is spoiling the tiled floors. People have lot of complaints there too. Bore well water is not fit to drink without treatment. Water purifiers are a must.

murali772's picture

sad for a TATA company

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@ Anantram saahibare'  -  The info on the JUSCO web-site is almost 3 years old - quite reflective of their unprofessional approach, one may say. I guess that is also what eventually led to the contract landing up in all kinds of problems (check here for more) - sad for a TATA company.

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