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Dealing with private water tankers in a city

February 15, 2013

The role of private water tankers at a time for water shortage

Prevent cartelisation, increase competition, ensure distribution of source

You see them everywhere, some painted yellow, and some rigged to tractors moving about busily spilling water as they rush delivering the precious resource to a thirsty city. Are they providing a service or are the making money of a scare commodity called water? The question is complex and there are no simple answers.

At the heart of their existence is a state failure. The inability of a system to deliver piped water to all, all the time. Then the market steps in to address the shortage and to meet the demand entrepreneurs rig these vehicles buying a chassis and welding a tank to store water and sometimes a pump to push it up to roofs. The inside of the tank is coated with EPI to prevent rust contamination and to extend the life of the tank. All this is investment of a considerable amount. Then a bore-well is leased, water is pumped into a small overhead reservoir and then shipped to where the demand is.

 The price of the tanker water can vary from Rs 35 a kilo-litre to Rs 100 a kilo-litre depending on the season and the distance to which the water has to be delivered.

Regulation:  How is this service to be regulated? Of course certain minimum norms have to be adhered to for both quantity and quality of water supplied. The source of the water should be revealed to the consumer as well as its quality as per BIS -10500.

While ensuring that the aquifer of one area alone is not depleted there must be a cap on the water allowed to be drawn for commercial purpose from a bore-well based on the resource availability.

Contrary to normal thinking the best way to deal with private tankers is to help increase their numbers and dispersion. A spread out service will ensure that only one sub aquifer is not over exploited and that competition will drive down prices and will eliminate cartelization and price fixing. This is not certainly the job of the current water supply institutions or that of the local government. Creating competitive and fair markets is a different skill set and we need to help develop that in a water regulator or with a water regulatory commission at a city level.

Providing a better understanding of the aquifer to the water tanker operators, helping them understand water quality and organizing them into an association and help self regulation and self certification processes within are also necessary.

The Ground Water Act and Rules can help drive this effort but only if the outcomes are clearly identified as accepting private water tankers and their role in supplying water.

Ultimately the best and cheapest way to deliver water is still the piped water supply but only if it works. Till then the informal sector will have a role to play. Gradually bringing them to the formal domain is the way ahead to manage water availability for citizens better. That is water wisdom.

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