Monday Musings: Citizens’ white paper on Pune’s water mafia is the need of the hour
Pune’s water mafia includes builders who submitted ‘water affidavits’ and defaulted on their pledge to supply water to housing societies at their cost, exploitative water tanker operators, mute politicians and a corrupt Pune Municipal Corporation.pune Updated: May 28, 2018 16:38 IST
Through a series of detailed investigative reports over the last 10 days, this newspaper has revealed the size, scale and operations of Pune’s water mafia, like never before.
Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that this black business has grown to upwards of Rs. 100 crore per annum. Hapless, water-starved pensioners and retired defence officers, corporate executives, young professionals and migrants to Pune city living in the newly-emerging suburbs of Pune have become the victims of this mafia.
We have shown how it is not just the water tanker operators who have been committing a fraud on the residents who have no choice but to stay dependent on supply from water tankers for their daily needs.
The water tankers are in fact the symptoms of the cancerous and indiscriminate construction permits given by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) since 2001 while abdicating its responsibility of providing water to these new constructions.
Each builder who undertook commercial or residential construction in the fringe areas of Pune was given permission on the basis of a legal undertaking that he would bear the cost of water supply to his projects till such time that satisfactory water supply was provided by the PMC.
Till all the flats were sold, the builder bore the cost of water supply – in some cases from the one-time maintenance fund collected from the flat buyers. Once he withdrew from the project, water management was left to the clueless residents of new housing societies.
In addition to paying PMC’s water tax and other charges in their annual property tax bills, residents by the thousands have been cheated of their earnings by paying additionally for water tanker supply.
The tanker operators who are primarily local level politicians and their friends and relatives across party lines lost no time in sensing a booming opportunity in this business.
There are housing societies with a daily requirement of nearly two dozen tankers, each at a cost of Rs. 1,800, for water supplied by the PMC at a nominal cost of about Rs. 500. Commercial establishments such as malls, multiplexes and IT parks have been willing to pay up to Rs. 3,500 per tanker of 10,000 litres for an assured, hassle-free supply of water.
Some tanker operators have also diversified into the bottled water business, literally minting money from their illegal water business.
The silent blessings of the politicians have ensured that the water mafia gets to run its business without any hindrance, firm action or corrective measures from the Maharashtra government or the PMC.
This black business driven by an unholy nexus will continue to grow and flourish unless the residents who are suffering rally together and take the civic body and the politicians to task. The time for such collective action is ripe because the 2019 elections are around the corner.
Credible NGOs, citizen-activists, legal and other experts need to come together on a common platform to rid Pune of the water mafia. A credible fact sheet in the form of a Citizens’ White Paper on the problem and the solutions to Pune’s water crisis needs to articulated, first and foremost.
The welfare of the residents of Pune is at the heart of our journalism and we shall support all efforts in the right direction.