Catalyst | Introduce Crisis Pricing for Water

Bangalore appears to be heading an unprecedented water crisis with plummeting water levels in the KRS reservoir and weak river flows in the Hemavathi. Afshan Yasmeen from The Hindu tells us that the city may have only 20 days of water left, unless the rains relieve us:

Predicting that the city will plunge into unprecedented water crisis if it doesn’t rain in the next few days, the official said at least 2.6 tmcft water is needed to cope till the monsoon arrives. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has also been briefed, the official said.

“If more water from the Hemavathi is not released, we may have to draw water from the dead storage. This requires preparation and precautions as it will be the first time that the dead storage will be touched,” the official said.

Pointing out that Bangalore needs 1,250 mld, he appealed to people to use water judiciously. “We also want people to come up with suggestions on how to manage the situation,” he added. The Hindu, May 16, 2013
[Emphasis added]

With all of Bangalore’s water woes, it must be mentioned that the city has a better history of water management than most other places in India. Managing water is not just about ensuring supply, but also includes the management of demand – of ensuring that people do not waste precious, scarce resources. For one, Bangalore remains one of very few cities in the country which has metered the water connections of most of its residents, ensuring that there is volumetric pricing for water – where people only pay as per the amount of water they use.

Unfortunately, this is far from sufficient. Though water has been priced, it isn’t sufficient to recover even the operational costs of supplying water – let alone manage demand effectively. Though the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has a slab-wise increasing tariff, even the most prolific of consumers pay only Rs. 36 per 1000 litres of water. In comparison, the BWSSB ends up spending about Rs. 48* for the same amount – essentially giving a subsidy of at least 12 rupees per kilo-litre to the richest Bangaloreans.

Pricing water is always a contentious issue, with politicians and officials wary about increasing tariffs for fear of a popular backlash. However, Bangalore are facing a severe crisis here and every drop of water saved counts. If the state has to draw water from the dead storage at KRS, the costs will be tremendously higher. It is only fair that the users of this water bear their fair share of the costs, instead of off-loading them onto the taxpayer.

It is imperative that the government introduces crisis pricing of water and hike up the rates to ensure its judicious use. Every unit of water from BWSSB that gets wasted is another unit of water that needs to be bought from water tankers – at five to ten times the price. By increasing the municipal tariffs and preventing people from using water for frivolous things like daily car washing, the government will end up reducing the total cost people spend on domestic water in Bangalore.

We pay more for fruits and vegetables when they are not in season, and we pay even more for them when they are in very short supply. Why shouldn’t we pay more for water in the summer, and even more when the city is facing an unprecedented crisis? It is time to let the residents of the city pitch in during a time of crisis.

*The approximate costs for the operational cost of supplying water, after leakage and distribution losses. This does not include all the expenses on building the supply infrastructure, nor does it factor in the externality of pollution and loss to the ecology of the river basin that the supply of water causes.