Even as the city grapples with a water shortage, precious drinking water meant for housing societies and slums is being sold illegally and used to construct buildings, thanks to a nexus between civic officials, builders and tanker owners.
Mumbai has 18 water filling stations from where potable water is carried in tankers to buildings and slums that don’t get water from taps, owing to problems in the supply lines.
Every day, these tankers distribute about seven million litres of drinking water, which is sold at a nominal rate of Rs120 to Rs150 a tanker to housing societies and given free to slum dwellers in areas where the local corporator has allotted money from his area development fund. Each tanker carries about 10,000 liters of water.
Under the rules, water from these filling stations is meant exclusively for drinking. However, the problem is that the BMC has no system in place to check where the tankers actually take this water. Civic activists say that in many cases, it is supplied to construction sites and other businesses. Over the past week, drinking water from a filling station at Andheri (E), near the railway station, has been distributed to several construction sites.
On April 4 and 7, the BMC gave construction companies permission to use water from 49 and seven tankers, respectively. HT has copies of receipts issued for these by the BMC’s assistant engineer, water works, in K-East ward.
Water from a filling station at LBS Road in Ghatkopar has also being misused. A source in the BMC said, “This area in Ghatkopar is under the influence of the tanker mafia and politicians. Water from this filling station is meant for slums in Govandi, Chembur and Kurla are there is a severe water shortage in these areas.”
Vivekanand Gupta, secretary of the BJP’s city unit, who first suggested shifting IPL matches out of the state because of the drought, has taken photographs and shot a video of tankers transporting water from the Andheri filling station to construction sites. “It’s a racket by the BMC and the tanker lobby. Water from the civic body’s filling station is being used for construction. This needs to be probed,” he said.
Unlike with housing societies, sending water from filling points to slums requires a letter from the local corporator. A source said that in some cases, corporators have written such letters but then sold the water to companies for several times the price that the BMC charges — up to Rs 1,200 for a tanker. A few years ago, the civic bod blacklisted several tanker suppliers from Ghatkopar after this racket was exposed. However, most of them were back in business after changing the company’s name, said a civic official, who did not wish to be named.
Ashok Tawadia, chief engineer of the BMC’s hydraulics department, admitted that the civic body does not check whether the tankers deliver water where they are supposed to. “We don’t have any mechanism to check whether water is being supplied to the right people or not. For this, we have to trust and completely depend on the people who are seeking water from us.”
When asked about water from the Andheri filling station being sent to construction sites, Tawadia admitted that the tankers were issued in the names of builders, but added, “The water from Andheri (E) is in the name of builders as the name of the existing society has not been changed in the assessment department’s records.” As for the Ghatkopar case, he acknowledged that there had been complaints but repeated that the BMC does not monitor the tankers.
A senior official from the water department, who did not wish to be named, said, “Water from filling points is meant exclusively for drinking. It can’t be given for construction. If any society is not getting enough water, water from these filling points can be given to them through private tankers.”