The AAP government’s move to supply up to 20,000 litres of free water to every household every month will not cover a vast chunk of Delhi because of infrastructural deficiencies. The water sop will leave out most of those living in slums, resettlement and unauthorised colonies.
Experts also fear that the ‘freebie’ will devalue the scarce resource and lead to wastage and diversion.
The subsidy, which comes with the rider that consumption over 20,000 litres would mean payment in full for the entire supply, will reach all 18 lakh metered households. But AAP’s own assessment says 14 lakh households do not have piped connections.
But the government is hopeful.
“Delhi Jal Board has been directed to speed up the process of setting up infrastructure to provide water to colonies that do not have pipelines,” deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said.
The government plans to crack down on the tanker mafia and ensure water reaches all places with piped networks or metered connections. “We will ensure 100% coverage in the next five years,” said a senior government official.
The government will bear a subsidy of `21 crore per month for free water. The cabinet has approved `250 crore for the next financial year. “This estimate includes the cost of installing more meters to allow more people to get the benefit of piped water,” said another government official.
But the concern is not only about poor coverage. There is a possibility of wastage and diversion. “Free supply of water is not sustainable. It devalues the resource and makes the user careless. Other cities will make similar demands,” Manoj Misra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said.
Manu Bhatnagar of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) feels such a supply cannot be more than 10,000 litres. “And it cannot be free. The cost should be realized. Why offer free resources to the rich? It will lead to misuse.”
Due to distribution leakages and faulty fixtures, Delhi faces a shortfall of 265 million gallons per day. “This 20,000 litres per family per month means around 130 litres per person per day. An average person requires 70 litres of water a day. Even if we add 30 litres more per person to meet non-household needs, 100 litres per person per day is enough for a comfortable living,” said Misra.
Experts feel there could be differential rates for different categories of citizens but free supply made it prone to wastage and misuse. “It could even result in a water black market where people getting free water in excess would be more than glad to supply it to the black marketers,” said Misra.