‘Tough pill to swallow’: What forced Delhi Jal Board to hike water tariff
What forced the Delhi government to hike water charges, something which it has shied away from for more than two and half years?
According to officials, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has faced a revenue loss of Rs 516 crore in 2016-2017 and Rs 209 crore in the fiscal year before that and was forced to take the decision to hike water bills.
DJB vice chairman and MLA from the water-starved Sangam Vihar constituency, Dinesh Mohaniya, said it was a tough pill to swallow but had to be done.
“The board has reported revenue loss because of not increasing tariff in past years. Every year they (the DJB members and officials) demand an increase of 10% in charges because of different factors, which affect the cost, are continuously increasing… The government has always been of the view that tariff should not be increased but it (the latest increase) has to be done to sustain the DJB,” Mohaniya said.
According to him, DJB’s mandate is to increase tariff every year by 10% but “that was not done in last three years’. “We had even reduced the development charges from Rs 450 to Rs 100 when we came to power. Politically, we don’t want to hike tariffs even today but there is a constraint that we also have to run the board,” Mohaniya said.
In his budget speech in March this year, Delhi finance minister and deputy CM Manish Sisodia had said that 12.57 lakh consumers had already benefitted from the scheme, as they had “zero water bills.” According to a DJB official, this is the number of water connections, which have got the benefit once or multiple times, which is dependent on their monthly water usage.
Immediately after coming to power in 2015, the AAP government had announced free water to households which consumed up to 20,000 litres per month. There are over 22 lakh water connections in the city. The government claims that 87% of these consumers get benefit from the free water scheme.
The DJB vice chairman on Tuesday cited factors like 7th Pay Commission, an extra burden of around Rs 350 crore, and 18% GST as some of the reasons for the water tariff hike.
“Earlier, water pipes were exempted from any tax ,including sale tax and VAT. But now the board has to pay 18% GST on water pipes. Because of to this, the cost of any project in the DJB has gone up. This is also an extra burden,” he said.
Even on Tuesday, DJB, in its meeting, approved three new projects. A water pipeline at Jain Colony in Mundka, which will benefit 35,000 people in the area, a 24-km pipeline at Savada Ghevra to cater to 85,000 people and a 2,7MGD underground reservoir at Siraspur in Badli, with 9 km water pipelines.
However, other factors, too, plague the water utility.
A substantial component of the water bill is sewer maintenance charge. However, in a city, where most of the households don’t have sewage connections, it remains an on paper farce.
“As far as sewage network is concerned, on paper there are 50-60% connection, but in reality it is around 20%. There are 35 STPs in 21 locations are operating at the moment. But there are very few people who have taken sewer connection. This defeats the purpose,” former water minister Rajendra Gautam had told Hindustan Times in July this year.
Another reason why the DJB loses revenue is leakages and contamination. The current percentage of water loss is 45-50% and the utility plans to bring it down to acceptable limits of 10-15%.