Mismanaging the shallow aquifer – Subsidy and distortionsJune 12, 2011
Managing shallow aquifers in a city
Just how a city can be arbitrary with its policy on water management and therefore leading to sub-optimal conditions is made clear by a recent example one came across. Balasubramanian had an old open well dug to a depth of 30 ft. when he first built his house in the early 80s. The well had yielded water for quite some years but then subsequently had gone dry.
He read about rainwater harvesting in the papers and its potential to recharge the aquifer and so he connected his rooftop through a series of pipes and a basic filter to his open well. Remarkably, in a very short span of time, the water level in his well increased.
While his neighbours struggled to get water and sometimes had to buy from private water tankers he just fit a small pump and was able to meet his entire year’s water requirement from the shallow well. He actually did not need a city connection but kept it just in case.
Now here is the comical part. The city utility came to his home and seeing that there was a pump in the well decided to charge him a fee of Rs. 50 a month as sanitary cess.
The argument that the city has is that the water from the well is used by the household and is then released into the sanitation lines. Since the utility has to collect, convey and treat the sewage it is entitled to charge the household the amount as a sanitary fee. Bangalore is the only city in India which has such a fee structure for the use of a well or a borewell by a household. Perfectly logical, one would say.
Balasubramanian is, however, incensed. He says he did rainwater harvesting as advised and made compulsory by the utility for the site of his size.
Now that the rainwater harvesting has become successful he is not only not being rewarded for a good job done but actually being penalised for it.
The utility spends Rs. 36 for every 1,000 litres of water that it brings to the city. It charges Rs. 6 for the first slab of 8,000 litres and Rs. 9 for the next slab up to 25,000 litres.
Now, in a month, if Balasubramanian consume 25,000 litres of water from the utility he gets a subsidy of Rs. 699. The utility loses this amount.
If Balasubramanian shifts to an open well and saves the utility 25,000 litres of water he is not only making available this water for other residents but also saving money for the utility. For this act he has to pay an additional Rs. 50. The world is unjust or so he feels.
Here is the other irony. If the utility had supplied this entire water to him they would have charged him a sanitary cess of Rs. 15 only. Now he pays Rs. 65.
There are over 120,000 borewells and open wells which pay this sanitary cess to the utility. It is time the BWSSB took a good hard look at its cross- subsidisation and tariff policy and worked towards incentivising good behaviour and punishing bad ones.
The city needs multiple sourcing of water and the open wells have the potential to provide up to a third of the city’s water needs. Integrating them with the water supply plan is the path to water wisdom.