In 1860, when the population of then Bombay was less than a million, the British administration began tapping lakes in the vicinity for water supply to a city it wanted to develop into a showcase colonial centre. Vihar lake water was piped into the city. All of 32 million litres a day (mld), more than sufficient at that time.
Mumbai’s current requirement is around 4200 mld while the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, after harnessing water from water bodies as far away as 100 kilometres, supplies approximately 3430 mld. That’s a shortfall of 770 mld, roughly the amount of water that is stolen, leaked or wasted in the city or the amount that Pune city uses in a day. With new projects like the Middle Vaitarna on the anvil, Mumbai is better placed than many other Indian cities, say Chennai, to meet a projected demand of nearly 6400 mld seven-eight years from now.
Mumbai is unlikely to experience drought or drought-like conditions, ever. Conditions when water flows through taps once a week or fortnight, when tankers sell water at Rs300 to 500 for a jerry-can of five litres, when cars and clothes are not washed for weeks, when animals and birds die of thirst. Domestic consumers now pay less than a rupee for water in the tap, slum dwellers pay two-and-a-half times as much.
Mumbai is the exception in the state where vast stretches in the plains are battling the most severe drought in 40 years. Across Marathwada, parts of western Maharashtra, and Vidarbha, water is a luxury, crop failure a certainty and migration a possibility. In the insular urban eco-system that the city has become, Mumbaiites are hardly touched — literally or figuratively — by the drought-induced devastation in the inner regions of the state.
An elected legislator, though, cannot ignore the drought, as Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar reminded his party legislator Bhaskar Jadhav. Jadhav, of humble agrarian origins by his own admission, had. To celebrate the weddings of his son and daughter earlier this week in hometown Chiplun, he had a lavish set encompassing over five lakh square feet, nearly a lakh of guests in attendance, buffet spreads with 60 culinary choices, 22 helicopter rides ferrying Maharashtra’s business and political leaders including many in the state cabinet.
In days of ultra-opulent multi-centre international weddings that business barons indulge their families with, Jadhav’s gift to his children would score low on the jaw-dropping meter. But it evoked considerable opprobrium, earned him the ire of his boss and brought the Income Tax department to his doorstep. For, unlike the business families that indulge themselves with (mostly) their own fortunes, Jadhav did what politicians do best: have cronies foot their bills. A contractor, Shah, was chosen for the honour.
Jadhav’s celebration was in bad taste, it was also insensitive and insulting to the drought-affected. But his association with Shah is what we should also be concerned about. Jadhav happens to be the junior minister for urban development in the state cabinet. Exactly why would this contractor Shah underwrite an expensive wedding for a minister is hardly a guess.
A debilitating collusion between ministers-elected representatives and contractors-businessmen has robbed the state of its legitimate development goals. Topping the list is the state’s irrigation: R70,000 crore spent for a miniscule area in the last decade. This surely has something to do with the current drought conditions. We in Mumbai should start worrying about the drought, we should equally be worried about what the likes of Jadhav-led collusion rob us of.