A Tale of Mumbai’s Water Crisis

get-ready-for-emptier-buckets-mumbaiElections are less than a fortnight away and parties are working round the clock, using short-sighted hand-outs to appease their voting blocs. Various new promises are being made and old ones repeated.

What remains strikingly common in all the party manifestos, of both 2012 and 2017, is the alarming issue of water in the city. In the 2012 manifesto of the Shiv Sena – BJP alliance, the word ‘water’ has been mentioned close to 29 times. The high frequency finds similar place in the 2017 manifestos of the parties. This year, the BJP has promised 24/7 supply, NCP and Congress has made promises of free water till 700 litres and 10,000 litres respectively.

However, despite repeated promises related to water supply, the city in the past 5 years has seen many dry days, empty buckets, and distraught Mumbaikars.

Most recently in 2016, the BMC declared a 20% water cut on August 27 and announced that it would most likely keep the cut in force until the next monsoon. In 2014, a cut of 20% was announced soon after assuring water supply despite scanty rainfall. In 2012, Mumbai lived in  extended agony due to severe cuts in water supply for the entire month of July.

As of 2016, Mumbai ranked 49 in terms of having sustainable water management systems. Not surprisingly, the total number of global cities that were evaluated was only 50.

Mumbai’s poor performance is a direct result of lack of proper infrastructure to manage this resource. The city has enough water to ensure a 24/7 supply but water gets wasted because there are too many leakages in the 100-year-old pipe network and due to illegal water connections tapping into these pipes. It is estimated that these two factors together account for the loss of 30 – 50% or 700 million litres.

The city also has a drainage problem. Every time it rains when the high tide is on, rain water backs up and overflows to  every low-lying part.

The BRIMSTOWAD project, that was supposed to renew the century-old storm water drains is underway at snail’s pace.  Most of these drains are choked because of poor solid waste management. And the absence of pumping stations to clear these drains is one of the biggest reasons for the city not being able to conserve fresh water. The untreated sewage continues to pollute water bodies that supply freshwater to the city.

All these hindrances boil down to the accountability in governance. Poor work done by the contractors is approved and contracts are delayed due to the venal nature of the standing committee. And as a result of that, Mumbaikars suffer due to the lapses in decision making.

Smart city Nagpur has already lead the cause of getting together an efficient water management system. It is the first city of its size in the country to outsource water supply to a private operator under the PPP model for 25 years. The main objective is to provide 24-hour 100% safe drinking water to 100% population including slum dwellers within five years and to reduce non-revenue, unaccounted for water to below 25% in 10 years.

It’s imperative for Mumbai to adopt an efficient system like Nagpur has. Else, it would mean more broken promises, emptier buckets, and surmounted frustration for Mumbaikars.



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