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Water supply outsourcing welcome - but, why the secrecy?

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The state has apparently launched on a programme to 'privatise' water supply in quite a few cities in the state, going by the below clip from NewsX.


Perhaps, they have found bold to do so based on the fairly satisfactory progress (check this) of the 'outsourcing' and upgradation contract entered into with TATA-owned JUSCO in Mysore.

And, immediately, the Socialists are up in arms, ringing alarm bells, harping on their pet theme that water is natural resource, and should therefore be accessible to all for free. But, like I have repeatedly pointed out earlier also, you can have all the water you want if you go to the source – a river, lake, or wherever; but, for it to be made available at the turn of the tap in your home, you need power – to pump it, filter it, etc, etc, which have costs attached to them. Further, in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Kolkatta, etc, this power has been provided by private players for years together, and most reliably too. When that’s the case, why can’t some meaningful arrangement be entered into with similar companies for water supply also? What is there to be so alarmist about it all? These companies will have as much of a stake as anybody else in the proper development of the city, very much as decided by the elected representatives, giving added meaning to the term ‘stake-holder’. More on that may be accessed here.

Apart from the above, enough debating on the ideological issues involved has happened here, as also here, apart from many more blogs accessible on PRAJA.

The current position in the US is briefly described here: Ravaged by the recent economic recession, more municipalities are considering selling or leasing their water systems in order to quickly infuse dwindling coffers with much needed cash. Analysis released today by the national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch reveals that as of October 2010, at least 39 communities in the U.S. were considering selling or leasing their water systems to private operators—more than five times the number of completed privatization deals in a typical year over the last two decades. The typical water system poised for privatization in 2010 served 45 times as many people as those leased or sold over the last twenty years. The average system up for privatization in 2010 served nearly 283,000 people, whereas those that had been privatized served an average of 6,285 customers. The full report can be accessed here.

As compared to the US, the only major 'privatisation' of city water supply in the country has perhaps been in Mysore. And again, unlike in the US, in Mysore (as also the arrangements proposed for the other cities, I am sure), the contract is a PPP for upgradation of the infrastructure and outsourcing of the supply, with the sources remaining fully under the control of the government. Further, apart from the financial constraints, is the matter of technical capability to undertake these specialised tasks, all of which are progressively falling on the municipalities, resulting from decentralisation, brought on by the 73rd and 74th amendments.

Yes, the government needs to be more open about it all. The fear perhaps is of the Socialist back-lash. But, they should realise that times have changed, and the people want efficiency and quality. And, in the process, if the 40 odd percent currently recorded as losses, gets accounted, the costs can be contained too, apart from people having to rely lesser and lesser on tanker supplies.

Another reason for the secrecy may of course be the scope these contracts provide for big underhand money for the neta-babu combo involved. Well, certainly nobody can tolerate that any longer.

Muralidhar Rao


pdk's picture


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 The average system up for privatization in 2010 served nearly 283,000 people, whereas those that had been privatized served an average of 6,285 customers.

One needs to think a bit more about what the writer is trying to convey by those two contrasting numbers before jumping to conclusions! Further, from the same link comes these snippets:

“More and more U.S. towns and cities are eyeing their water systems as a potential source of revenue,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This means that more consumers than ever before are facing the prospect of higher rates and degraded service prevalent among private water providers. Unfortunately, such deals rarely ever succeed in balancing budgets and most just mean the loss of public control of an essential resource.” A Food & Water Watch review of five large cities considering leasing or selling their water assets in 2010 reveals that each also suffered from multi-million dollar budget deficits.


While a tempting short-term solution to municipal budget problems, selling and leasing water assets to private companies could worsen a municipality’s financial situation in the long-term.



Despite the increased interest in water system privatizations, public backlash has kept privatizations at bay. From 2008 to 2010, community opposition halted at least seventeen proposed deals including those in Trenton, N.J.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Akron, Ohio; and Marion, Ind.

Food & Water Watch’s review of 18 municipalities that ended contracts with private operators since 2007 found that public operation of water and sewer systems averaged 21 percent cheaper than private operation. Many towns also experienced improved service under public control.

“The data clearly shows that privatizing water systems is not a smart long-term solution to municipal budget problems. Such superficial measures only saddle consumers with debt while degrading the quality of these vital assets,” notes Hauter.



Maybe the reason for the secrecy is something else :-)

murali772's picture


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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

It is essentially another Socialist hang-out, like the many here also, and consequently, it will have to colour its report in line with its ideology. Besides, like I have mentioned earlier also, what's being pursued here is essentially outsourcing of the distribution, with the control over the sources remaining with the government, which may not have been the case in the US. Whatever, inspite of all the negatives listed, more and more cities are per force having to give up undertaking the job themselves. Obviously, there are good enough reasons for that.

And, here too there are enough and more reasons why the parastatals and municipalities cannot do a competent job by themselves. And, that's why we need to bring in professional players into the picture.

Muralidhar Rao
grim's picture

Bangalore State of water Supply.

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At the start,  apologies if this seems  slightly off-topic, please move to appropriate thread if the need is felt.

Bangalore State of water Supply.

During conversation with some friends, somebody suggested that some  areas of Bangalore are going to be really starved few years down the line.

That led me to wonder if one can get some  idea as to the state of planning of BWSSB.

How can one find out what is the state of water supply in Bangalore, covering following questions?

1. How many  and what (list) areas does BWSSB at the present supply water to?
2. What is their  water supply plan for the areas which dont get water yet?
3. Which are the areas where water pipe have been layed but water hasnt been supllied and for how long?

Does anyone have list or means of getting this information, i checked the BWSSB site and they dont such info. available.


silkboard's picture

how far has this progressed, after Jusco situation?

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Just curious if this has moved forward at all. Not much news recently on this.

murali772's picture

grim alright; but we can't afford to give up

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@ grim - check this debate, or go directly to the Bangalore Patrol (Janaagraha) report here.

Yes, the situation is 'grim'. But, I would like to live on hope, since I believe I owe it to the future generation, which includes my own children.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

the inevitability of it all

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Advisor to Chief Minister on Urban Affairs, A Ravindra on Thursday said there is a need to set up a Water Regulatory Authority on the lines of Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) to address various issues, including fixing water tariff.

Speaking at a workshop on ‘Strengthening Participatory Approaches in Urban Water Supply and Sewerage in Karnataka’ organised by British High Commission in association with urban local bodies, Ravindra said  the regulatory body would check political interference while fixing tariff.

“In Bangalore, water tariff has not been revised for many years due to political pressure. Fixing tariff is a biggest problem. BWSSB is incurring more expenses than revenue. If we fail to revise water tariff regularly, it is sure to become an additional burden on consumers,” he said.

Ravindra favoured public participation especially while implementing schemes like 24x7 water supply. With the implementation of Cauver IV Stage water works, Bangalore has been able to get sufficient water supply, he said.

For the full report in the New Indian Express, click here

The panel recommended provision of more time and remuneration to consultants who make DPRs in order to encourage more detailed project reports and the need for a single governing agency to be appointed which would have control over all water related issues in the state.

For that report, again the New Indian Express, click here.

Essentially, what is being hinted at is professionalisation of water supply, through out-sourcing, preceded of course by the setting up of a regulatory body. The inevitability of it all is staring everybody in the face; some bother to see it; others choose to play blind.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

making headway, finally

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BWSSB Chief Engineer Narayana said, “We have already allotted works to monitor water flow to trace illegal connections in the south division to L&T at the cost of `60 crore. As the water loss is more in central and west divisions, we are planning to issue similar contracts to minimise the losses. Around 36 per cent of water that is pumped by the BWSSB goes unaccounted for. Therefore, these projects are aimed at minimising the loss by plugging leaks.”

The service provider will have to install water meters at every junction in central and west divisions and identify the area to which water flows from each area. The identified area is called district metering area (DMA). As the pumped water flows through a meter installed at a vital junction in each DMA, the amount of water consumed by those with legal water connections can easily be traced, by adding up the water consumed by every customer in the area. If surplus water is being drawn in any of the DMA, the service provider will inspect the water lines to see if there are any illegal connections or underground leakages.

The service provider will have to inform the BWSSB Vigilance Cell if any illegal connections are traced in the area, which will help the BWSSB impose a penalty on violaters or prosecute them for water theft.

For the full report in the New Indian Express, click here

Perhaps the right way to bring in outsourcing of key functions where in-house expertise is lacking  to professional players. Mr Gaurav Gupta needs to be complimented for this.

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