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HT Investigation 6: How ‘water affidavits’ fuelled Pune’s tanker mafia

Even as Pune’s water-tanker mafia has business scaled up to an estimated Rs100 crore, there’s no resolution to the water scarcity crisis. Pune Municipal Corporation is at the heart of the crisis accepting affidavits from builders

pune Updated: May 24, 2018 16:15 IST
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,water affidavits
Such water affidavits have been submitted by builder in Pune. (HT Photo )

PUNE: Since 2001, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has virtually abdicated its responsibility of providing water to housing societies in the fringe areas of east Pune by entering into ‘water affidavit’ agreements with builders. As per these affidavits, the responsibility of supplying water rested with builders who fulfilled this by passing on the business to water tankers.

The PMC, which granted building permissions indiscriminately without developing the water infrastructure, sought water affidavits from builders and asked them to supply water through borewells and water tankers.

By 2007, this issue had blown into a crisis and the residents of Mohammadwadi and Vimannagar raised the issue with the then PMC Commissioner Praveensinh Pardeshi, without much success.

2001: Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) asks builders to submit ‘water affidavits’ and be responsible for providing water through borewells and water tankers to housing societies in the fringe areas of Pune. Builders gladly submit water affidavits and PMC grants building permissions indiscriminately knowing fully well that the water infrastructure is not in place.
Builders pay for water tankers, in many instances utilising funds collected from one-time maintenance paid by flat buyers.
Builder withdraws after project is completed, leaving residents with no option but to pay for regular water supply through water tankers.
New malls, multiplexes, IT parks, commercial establishments, educational complexes offer to pay water tanker operators more than housing societies. Between Rs 3,000 to Rs 3,500 per tanker of 10,000 litres for assured water supply.
Water mafia is firmly entrenched with a strong nexus between builders, civic officials and staff, politicians and water tanker operators. PMC is unable to discipline water tanker operators with proposals to introduce mandatory GPRS system for tracking of tankers, installation of CCTV cameras and water meters at PMC filling stations.
Housing societies in east and west Pune in localities such as Wagholi, Vimannagar, Kondhwa, Mohammadwadi, Undri, Wakad, Hinjewadi suffer all the more. Problem worsens year after year as demand for water increases with the rise in population, housing societies and commercial establishments. Politicians make empty promises.
Illustrations: SUDHIR SHETTY | Graphics: HITESH MATHUR

While PMC benefitted from development charges and taxes, and the builders earned heavy profits, it was the middle class flat buyer who had to bear the cost of water supply by paying the tanker mafia.

In June 2017, a divisional bench of Bombay high court chief justice Manjula Chellur and justice Nitin Jamdar imposed temporary restrictions on the PMC from sanctioning new projects in the Baner-Balewadi areas or granting occupancy certificates for completed buildings till the water problem was addressed.

Their order was in response to a public interest litigation filed by Amol Balwadkar, then a 28-year-old resident of Balewadi, who took up the cause of acute water shortage in the area and filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay High court.

Now a BJP corporator from Balewadi, Amol Balwadkar said, “Housing societies in Baner-Balewadi alone were spending between Rs 15 crore and Rs 20 crore on water tankers and 20 litre jars of bottled water. At the root of this problem was the undertaking (water affidavit) sought by the PMC from builders that the latter will be responsible for water supply.”

Responding to his petition, the Bombay High Court bench reprimanded the PMC and said, “You keep on granting occupation certificates and new people come to reside in these areas, but without proper water supply, and the problem (of water scarcity) keeps escalating,” the judges said.

Prominent RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said “ The very act of taking water affidavits from the builders is illegal. Public infrastructure like water, roads etc needs to be provided by the PMC in the first place which is its bounden duty. Unfortunately citizens are being taken for a ride by the PMC and this illegal practice must be stopped with immediate effect.”

Wagholi Housing Residents Association Director Sanjeev Kumar Patil said “ It amounts to robbing the people of their natural wealth and rewarding the mafia. It reveals a criminal mindset with which the civic authorities have been cheating the citizens and thus promoting anti-democratic private water monopolies ”.

Patil explained that both the PMC and PMRDA (Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority) have been violating the BPMC Act 1949 by transferring their mandatory duty of supplying water to builders.

Water starved areas have faced harassment from water tankers and with no watchdog over the PMC and PMRDA things have gone from bad to worse.

The affidavits specify that it is the responsibility of the builder to supply water either by borewell or water tankers and the builder will under no circumstance complain to the civic body. Can the civic body abdicate its responsibility of supplying water and instead keep giving permissions for new constructions, the WHSA has questioned in its petition to the Chief Minister’s office.

“ The civic bodies gives their go-ahead to housing projects in areas where they clearly state their inability to provide clean drinking water after the builder undertakes to provide the same. However, in case of violations of the undertaking by the builder, there is little the PMC or the PMRDA will do for the aggrieved flat owner apart from giving some friendly advice ,” said Nitin Jain , an influential civic activist from Wagholi.

BOX-1: Wagholi residents demand Rs.75 lakhs from builder towards cost of water

In February 2018, members of Suyog Nisarg Co-op Housing Society, Wagholi, sent a letter to Suyog Development Corporation Ltd demanding refund of Rs. 72.75 lakhs towards payment for water since February 2016.

The letter to the builders Kalpesh Bharat Shah and Bharat Keshavlal Shah said:”In accordance with your undertaking to PMRDA while obtaining the completition certificate clearly state taht it is the responsibility of yourself to provide water to Suyog Nisarg Co-operative Hsg Soc Ltd at your expense unless local authority (Wagholi Grampanchayat in this case) is able to provide water to the society.”

First Published: May 24, 2018 14:24 IST