'Pvt players not for social work'

A K Bajaj, former chairman of the Central Water Commission, insists things will only get better when private players are allowed in the business of distribution of water. Excerpts from an interview with Ashpreet Sethi.

Why do we need public-private partnerships in the water sector?

The Delhi government is working on several fronts at the same time such as housing, electricity, water and others. The resources are limited at this point of time. For adequate supply of water we need a considerable amount of financial aid. This PPP is one such step towards adding resources which will provide further financial assistance to the Delhi Jal Board and ensure better distribution.

How will this help deal with shortage, leaking pipelines and mismanagement of water by the Board?

The water pipes are old and need replacement. To expedite a major chunk of the work, DJB has decided to rope in private players.

What about the criticism from the opposition and experts that private players will aim at maximising profits from this venture?

Well, this is something we will have to live with. These entrepreneurs are not coming in for social work. They will expect some returns from what they invest. DJB has been providing subsidised water to the general public and is not generating enough revenue from the industrial sector either.

People going against this idea fear that private players will hike the water rate which will make water unaffordable for the poor and the marginalised sections. This is an arrangement similar to the one done with the electricity sector.

There have been concerns raised about how even the water sector would suffer like the electricity sector.

I agree but people have become more alert only after private players took over the electricity sector. Nobody can tamper with electricity meters like people are doing at present with water meters.

For instance, in Defence Colony, since two-three weeks, the water bills have shot upto to Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 when they used to be Rs 500-600. Once meters are installed by private players, it is imperative that bills will shoot up but at least the distribution will be channelised. The board had openly accepted few years ago that they do not have the finances to purchase good meters. Also, there will definitely be a cap on the water rate in slum-dominated areas.

Why did the Delhi government wait for years despite warnings from within the government and outside to rectify shortage and unequal
distribution of water?

There has been a massive explosion of population since the 1990s, which the government was not expecting.

It is not that the government did not know what to do. We did. But government procedures in India, especially Delhi, are slow and strict.

Getting a small tender passed takes a lot of time. What could have been done to combat this issue in two years has taken over eight years.

e requirement is to replace all pipes and water systems within one season but financial constraints have always come in the way. Hopefully, with this initiative things will improve.

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