The great water rip off

  • 30/03/1994

URBAN India faces a water crisis Madras to Jodhpur, most cities are already facing the crippling effects of scarcity. There is hardly any city in India that canboast of a 24-hour water supply. But much of this crisis may be totally bogus. And there is no better example than Delhi: pampered capital of India.

Delhi, Indeed, has a problem as far as water is concerned. But, as the cover story in this issue of Dowm to Earth brings out, the problem is less of scarcity and more of utter callousness that grips its administrators and elite consumers. Delhi wants increasing supply of water, even though it has very little - ground or surface - of its own. It has been spreading its octopus'-like tentacles, to the water supplies of its neighbouring states and more more dams in the Himalaya. This is an approach that satisfies every vested interest from construction companies to politicians and bureaucrats.

The lack of concern about how water is used and Whether there are ways of increasing the efficiency of Water consumption is appalling. There is a remarkable Scope for savings all the way. The only reason why water conservation is not explored with urgency is because it is actually cheaper to "use and throw away" water.

All cities are today spreading their tentacles to capture more water. While the people of Madras think that the Telegu Ganga canal will end their water crisis, the people of Jodhpur pin their hopes on the Indira Gandhi canal and the residents of Kanpur on a barrage on the list of water-thirsty cities chasing such This mirage is growing everyday.

Besides the environmental disasters that most of these projects are, the water obtained at such huge costs is beyond the reach of even the rich. Delhi residents can afford to luxuriate In their bathtubs only because they do. not pay even a fraction of the real cost of this water. Marutis gleam every morning only because the water used to wash them is virtually free. Even its disposal is equally highly subsidised. The socialist Indian state appears to speciallse in subsidising the rich. The environmental impacts of -these subsidies are there for everyone to see: the transformation of the river into from a Yamuna a sewer is just one.

There are already warning- signals that such environmental and economic freeloading cannot be sustained for long, especially if the social tensions and the bankruptcy of water supply and sewage disposal bodies are anything to go by. The only hope lies in consumers who understand that water is an exhaustible and scarce resource and hence must be shared equitably and conserved as much as possible. Despite the "shortage", there is little recycling of water even for horticulture and industry. It is also difficult to understand why the government cannot tax the water- guzzling toilets and thus promote more efficient systems. And why should the rich not be made to pay for the filth they generate?

But perhaps those in power are not yet seeking serious answers. Manmohan Singh can balance his budget , stops subsidising natural resource use by the better if he stops subsidising natural resource use by the rich. And promote better environmental management.

Related Content