The paltry price of water

Subsidised Rates

The paltry price of water

Despite the fact that the water crisis in the City has peaked this summer, the resource is still being sold at ridiculously subsidised rates. At present, the BWSSB incurs an approximate cost of Rs 28 to source and supply a kilolitre of water.

However, the tariff plan that the body operates on — which, a senior official with the BWSSB admits, was last revised only in February 2005 — doesn’t seem to take this spending into account.

For domestic consumers, the lowest slab of the tariff is priced at a meagre Rs six per kilolitre of water, while the highest is still a paltry amount at Rs 36 per kilolitre. Because of this, the body has been operating at a loss for years now. “The government has not permitted us to revise our prices since 2005. We submitted a proposal to have the tariff increased in the interest of breaking even but it’s still pending,” explains the official.

This reluctance, he goes on to add, can be attributed to purely political motives. Most governments are apprehensive about hiking the price of water because they fear the move will cut down on their vote bank. “Whenever state or municipal elections are due, the proposal is further delayed for obvious reasons. There could possibly be a change after these elections — but who knows what the new government will do?” he adds.

Other than the fact that the BWSSB has been unable to break even for years, the low cost of water has another repercussion — many Bangaloreans don’t understand its worth. Although the City is currently facing a serious scarcity of water, there are still plenty of people who don’t think twice about washing their cars or hosing their gardens on a daily basis. “The City seems to be blissfully unaware of the problem and to a huge extent, that’s because they don’t feel the pinch of wasting water. It doesn’t matter to many people if they leave a tap running because at the end of day, it doesn’t have an impact on their pocket. If the prices were to be hiked — not unreasonably but to the appropriate level depending on the demand versus supply equation — there might be a bit more awareness,” says Mona, a homemaker.

It’s evident that past governments have been avoiding this move because they fear a backlash from an annoyed public. But Madan, a professional, doesn’t think that that will necessarily be the case. “When their pipes run dry, Bangaloreans call for tankers that charge exorbitant rates and pay them without complaining. It’s obvious that if the need arises, people are willing to pay extra. And in a situation where the scarcity of water is combined with thoughtless wastage, hiking the prices could help,” he reasons, citing the example of the increasing price of petrol. “Like petrol, water too is a precious commodity and should be priced accordingly. People began to take measures to save fuel only when its cost shot up,” he says.

On the other hand, it’s also true that all sections of society might not be able to meet the expenses of a hike in the price of water. Pranav, a student, suggests that a slab-wise system based on income — rather than the prevailing system based on the amount of water consumed — might make more sense.

“Low-income groups might not be able to handle a drastic increase in the price of water but middle-class and upper-class people definitely can. At the rate at which the commodity is currently being supplied, many don’t feel any qualms about wasting it,” he concludes.

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