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#MondayMusings: Will this year’s water cuts open the season for tanker mafia?

Can BJP and its earnest-sounding MP, Anil Shirole, make a real difference by disciplining the water tanker lobby?

pune Updated: Oct 29, 2018 15:29 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Monday Musings,Public transport
The civic administration, on its part decided that rather than allow unequal water distribution in the city, all areas would be ensured equitable distribution of five hour of water supply per day. (HT)

Like in the case with poor public transport infrastructure, poor water management in an expanding city like Pune has been a matter of distress for more than a decade now.

On Saturday, matters came to a head when the ruling BJP’s member of parliament Anil Shirole decided to embarrass his own party by threatening to sit on a dharna-hunger strike to protest the latest water cuts.

Shirole announced his drastic step after he was incensed with the civic administration’s decision to introduce water cuts across the city to ensure distribution. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) announced this step after the Irrigation department switched off two water pumps bringing water to the city to be able to divert water for agriculture.

The civic administration, on its part decided that rather than allow unequal water distribution in the city, all areas would be ensured equitable distribution of five hour of water supply per day.

Many have questioned this wisdom, starting with the MP himself. In a rare admission of the reality as it stands, Shirole said the ruling BJP had failed to address the water crisis in the city.

“We can accept such water cuts during the summer season, but the monsoons just got over and the dams are full. This water crisis is due to lack of management and the residents are suffering. This is not acceptable,” Shirole said.

Citizen-activist groups such as the Sajag Nagrik Manch have also protested and have pointed out that water cuts would mean big business for the water tanker mafia which has had a firm grip over the water scarcity fringe localities of the city for at least two decades now. Citizen-activists fear a deep nexus between the civic administration and the water tanker mafia because water cuts and water scarcity translates into a flourishing business for the tanker mafia.

Last year, in a detailed investigative series, Hindustan Times exposed this nexus at the PMC’s water filling stations. We exposed the poor record-keeping of water being filled by tankers of 8,000 litres to 10,000 litres capacity. One operator was found to be diverting this water to his own water bottling plant. The water being supplied was un-metered; the CCTV camera system was not working; the register at the filling stations did not have the correct details and the PMC had yet again failed to introduce the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) system for monitoring the movement of tankers.

This system is necessary to prevent the illegal diversion of water meant for housing societies to private establishments such as malls and office complexes at a hefty premium. Private tanker operators have their own GPRS system to monitor the movement of their tankers. The PMC bureaucracy, however, has shown enormous resistance to the introduction of such a system which will ensure transparency in the movement of water tankers commissioned by the PMC.

Why are Mayor Mukta Tilak and Pune municipal commissioner Saurabh Rao silent on introducing fool-proof mechanisms with regards to supply of water by tankers? As has been happening every year, the post-monsoon months will see rising dependency on water tankers, month after month till the next monsoons. It is within the PMC’s powers to streamline the supply of water through tankers in a fair and affordable manner.

Can the ruling BJP and its earnest-sounding MP, Anil Shirole, make a real difference here?

Let us see how things unroll in the weeks and months to follow.

First Published: Oct 29, 2018 14:45 IST