When it comes to making money, Mumbai’s water tanker overlords could teach Messrs. Mallya, Modi and Choksi a thing or two. Water tankers make more money that all the three do.
Water tankers should be making in excess of Rs 10,000 crore each year, just from Mumbai alone. Extrapolate this to the entire state, and money could exceed Rs 1.5 - 2 lakh crore annually. And when there is a drought, there is the problem of water as well (https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/ india-could-face-a-crippling-water-crisis-in-a-decade-3996961.html), expect the billings to be significantly higher.
Sounds preposterous, isn’t it? But look at the numbers carefully (see table). Mumbai gets around 16 million litres of water daily from its lakes and reservoirs. Around 30% of this water cannot be traced. No kidding!
It could be leaky pipes. It could be unmetered connections. It could be evaporation too from its many wells. But the biggest reason is water tankers. Water just disappears, unaccounted for. That is why it is referred to as non-revenue water or NRW. The state wants to (generously) reduce NRW to 15%. However, excellently managed cities have an NRW of under 5%.
Water tankers are usually operated by people close to the municipal authorities as well as elected representatives. That is why they can move around with impunity. Each water tanker charges around Rs 2,000-5,000 per trip delivering 10,000 litres of water. Now discount the water that disappears by half. Then multiply this with the lowest rate that water tankers charge. Voila! You get a staggering figure of earnings worth Rs 48 crores a day. That translates into an eye-popping Rs 17,574 crore per annum.
And do remember that is is only from Amchi Mumbai! Add to this major cities like Pune, Nashik, Nagpur and many more smaller cities like Kolhapur, Solapur, Nanded, Jalgaon and Akola, and the expanse of the water tanker business becomes obvious. Maharashtra’s water tanker business could be worth over Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh crore annually.
Doesn’t the government know about this? Of course, it does. Remember how Chief Minister Fadnavis tried to impose a ban on water tankers in 2014? And do recall how miserably his instructions failed within a year. Ditto when the water regulator in Maharashtra, on July 14, 2017, tried to get the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to submit an estimate of all underground reserves of water – wells and boreholes — in Mumbai (http://www.asiaconverge.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2017-07-24_MWRRA-Notice-to-MCGM.pdf). The city bureaucracy just did not meet this requirement. No data was given. No prizes for guessing why.
Is there no way of stopping this water tanker mafia? Extremely difficult, unless the MCGM first compiles and completes data relating to the city’s water pipeline network into the public domain. That will enable people to tell the government which pipeline connections have been ignored, and which fictitiously added. It must begin with maps. Unless there is an account of the outlets, it will be difficult to regulate flows and then determine which pipeline has caused the losses.
Second, ensure that the city gets running water for 24 hours. One of the reasons why lots of water gets wasted is because people store water, and they replace the old water with fresh water whenever they can.
Third, ensure that water actually flows through the pipes in full flow. Listen to the cry of residents who complain that even though the pipes and taps exist, the flow of water is not strong enough to complete the daily chores of washing and cooking. As a result, many housing societies have to depend on water tankers who gladly oblige.
Fourth, each time a water pipe bursts and springs a leak, make it mandatory to file a chargesheet with the police. These leaks are often used as excuses to explain away the high levels of NRW. Police scrutiny will also reduce the incidence of people adding pipelines without permission.
Lastly, instead of hounding bankers and industrialists, please begin with municipal ward officers, and water and road inspectors. Check the status of their lifestyles, assets and bank balances as well as those of their relatives. Also check how many of the independent earth-moving machines, dumpers and water tankers are owned by relatives of municipal workers and why there is no mention of the business dealings with related parties.
Just do that and the city administration will become cleaner, its functioning more efficient; and the need to burden taxpayers with additional levies less relevant. The computation of water tanker earnings are just one good indication of the amount of money that can be made from garbage trucks, water tankers, road repairs and unauthorised construction each year. India can indeed be corruption free, but start with water-tankers and the municipalities first.
The writer is consulting editor with FPJ.