HT investigation Part 5: Pune Municipal Corporation’s official tanker operator also runs bottled water plant
Ravi Roadlines, an authorised water tanker operator of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) who had won a Rs50 lakh bid for supplying water through tankers, has been found to be operating a bottled water plant too.
Acute scarcity of water in the fringe areas of Pune has given rise not just to the booming water tanker business which has been growing by leaps and bounds, but also a far more lucrative business of supplying bottled water to the residents in housing societies, restaurants and commercial complex.
As reported by Hindustan Times, Pune’s water tanker mafia has been running an unhindered annual business of an estimated Rs100 crore plus in the wake of poor supervision and control by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) or the state government in Maharashtra.
At Wadgaonsheri, water tankers were found to have punctured a supply pipeline in the vicinity of a 1.25 lakh litres water tank from where water tankers were being filled illegally.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that from this point, a water tanker of 10,000 litres capacity headed to a water bottling plant based in Kharadi. A team from HT found that the tanker with registration number MH- 12 HD 6371 filled water at this point and then found its way to AquaRavi bottling plant in front of Bollywood Multiplex, Kharadi.
Clearly, processed municipal water was being processed further in this bottling unit for sale as bottled water of various quantities and 20 litre jars, too. These were then being sold to the hotel industry on Ahmednagar road.
It was rather shocking that this daylight theft of water and its diversion to a bottling unit faced no resistance from the civic officials of PMC’s water supply department or the local ward office.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an officer from PMC Water supply department said that the water tanker operator Ravi Galande was empanelled with PMC and had won a ₹50 crore bid for supply of water by tankers to various parts of the city. Known for offering the lowest bid for water tanker tender, this tanker operator had won a ₹50 lakh bid for supply of water to needy areas.
People in the vicinity said that the water tanker operators had strong political connections and hence there was no one who could challenge their illegal activities effectively.
Tankers belonging to Ravi Roadlines and Madhav Water Suppliers owned by Ravi Galande and his brother Madhav Galande were found to be operating in this area. Both are relatives of BJP corporator Sunita Galande and Narayan Galande, president of Wadgaonsheri constituency of National Congress Party(NCP).
Narayan Galande had contested the state legislative assembly elections in 2014 on a ticket from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and after the elections, joined NCP. He did not win in the 2017 municipal polls.
At the bottling plant, the staff declined to comment on the operation even as Ravi and Mahesh Galande failed to respond to calls. Repeated calls and text messages from HT to Ravi and Mahesh Galande failed to elicit a response.
Tanker business under firm grip of city politicians
A scrutiny of prominent water tanker fleet owners in the city reveals that almost all of them are local level politicians or relatives of prominent politicians from different parties.
Hailing from politically-active families in different parts of the city, the tanker operators have established a solid nexus with the municipal officials and lower level civic staff as a result of which there is virtually no one to challenge the irregularities committed by them.
While prominent tanker operators such as Mahadev Galande, Santosh Bharne and Ajay Jogdand are associated with the NCP, Vinayak Nimhan, who runs Nimhan Water Tanker Services in Pashan belongs to the Nimhan family led by former Shiv Sena city unit chief by the same name.
Former NCP MLA Bapu Pathare and BJP affiliates such as Ganesh Kalamkar, Rajendra Shrilimkar and Pralhad Saikar also run tanker fleets of their own.
PMC’s repeated efforts to install CCTV cameras at water filling stations and GPRS tracking devices on tankers to supervise and monitor their movement have failed for various reasons, primarily opposition from tanker operators.
This is amidst widespread theft of lakhs of litres water from the filling stations and diversion of municipal water to commercial establishments at higher rates, instead of prioritizing supply to housing societies.
“The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has been under tremendous pressure from the water tanker operators lobby. Owing to this, the civic authorities are not taking any firm action against those operators who openly flout the norms and indulge in various irregularities,” said Vivek Velankar, RTI activist and founder of the citizens’ group, Sajak Nagrik Manch.
“There are infinite evidences which exhibit the wrong doings by these water tanker operators. However, the authorities are not acting against them. This only indicates their well-established link amongst each other thus making their nexus invincible,” he said.
Velankar said the water tanker lobby has seen the fullest opportunity in exploiting hapless residents suffering for want of municipal supply.
“The civic authorities have failed to provide water to many locations. This provided an opportunity to the tanker operators to utilise their resources and supply water through the tankers,” he said.
First-term BJP corporator from Balewadi, Amol Balwadkar who owns five water tankers rejected the “water mafia” terminology.
“One cannot deny that there is some mutual understanding between the water tanker operators and politicians. However, there might be only one or two cases where there is a strong nexus between politicians and water tanker operators. Extending this to the entire fraternity is wrong,” he said.
He accused the PMC of failing in carrying out its responsibility. “Had the PMC succeeded in providing water to the entire city, the business of water tankers would not have come up in the first place,” he said.
The fact remains that poor water supply to different parts of the city has meant good business for the tanker operators. At the same time, politicians and political parties across board have failed to address the need for fair equitable distribution of water while granting indiscriminate permission for the construction of housing colonies in various water-starved fringe localities of the city.