Unbridled political meddling is the biggest roadblock
By Bhamy V. Shenoy
It is unfortunate that our city’s leaders are enacting the same drama with the same plot but with different actors when we look at water supply and sewerage system. We have been mute spectators though it is affecting everyone in varying degrees. Currently with Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) and Kabini Reservoirs, there is no water crisis on the horizon. However, there are pockets of the city and neighbouring villages where because of poor infrastructure and incompetence, water supply has always been irregular.
The much touted 24X7 water supply has remained a dream even after spending more than Rs. 160 crore by Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (JUSCO). Less said the better about the failing or already collapsed sewerage system. In recent years we have not heard of deaths (recall two deaths at Ekalavyanagar in 2007) or gastroenteritis (again in 2007 in Paduvarahalli) because of contaminated drinking water. Still there are doubts about the quality of drinking water because of failure of Vani Vilas Water Works (VVWW) to test water quality as per norms.
The first act of VVWW drama took place in 1983. The then Mayor P. Vishwanath requested the then Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde to transfer the management of VVWW to Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWS&DB). Till then the Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) was managing VVWW. Corporators at that time agreed to increase water tax to convince KUWS&DB to take over VVWW.
Unfortunately within three years, the MCC was back in the saddle to manage VVWW till 2008. After a tripartite contract between MCC, KUWS&DB and JUSCO, JUSCO was assigned to supply water 24X7.In 2013 as JUSCO was getting ready to unwind its operations, Mysuru was considering three distinct alternatives:
1. MCC to take over water supply responsibility and manage it through VVWW — old system.
2. To hand over the responsibility to KUWS&DB as recommended by the then CM Siddharamaiah.
3. To form a new and independent company, similar to the one in Bengaluru, to own and operate VVWW.
Since 1996, Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) has in vain been urging political leaders to form a separate body (Bengaluru model) to manage Mysuru’s water supply. In 2007 when Karnataka was under Governor’s rule, MGP succeeded in convincing the then Advisor to the Governor, Krishna Kumar (earlier he had served as MD of Vikrant Tyres) in handing over VVWW to KUWS&DB. However, in the last minute some political leaders sabotaged it.
The then MCC Commissioner Dr. C.G. Betsurmath recommended the second alternative while several NGOs and experts supported the third alternative of an independent body. Unfortunately because of the misuse of 74th amendment to the Constitution which gives the right to urban local body to ensure water supply, MCC Council had the power to overrule the CM and voted to control VVWW. In short, it was the replay of the act of late 80s when the MCC took back the control of VVWW.
Now the new act in the old drama with new actors has started. MP Pratap Simha, MLA G.T. Devegowda, MUDA Chairman H.V. Rajeev and supposedly BJP Corporators are all opting for alternative three of forming a separate body to manage VVWW. DC Rohini Sindhuri and MCC Commissioner Shilpa Nag are also in favour of the third alternative.
In recent days, new sub-plot is being enacted to adapt a fourth alternative. This will hand over the responsibility of supplying water to 52 villages surrounding Mysuru to KUWS&DB while MCC will control VVWW. This ‘Tughlakhian’ strategy of two different entities utilising more or less the same infrastructure will be a disaster. But it will meet the needs of our Corporators.
If political leaders were to seek professional advice to best manage VVWW in the most optimum way, they will be advised to adapt the third alternative of an independent body to manage VVWW. They will also be advised to have an independent regulatory commission to approve water charges and monitor water supply just like Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) for all Electricity Supply Companies.
Political clout a spoiler
What is compelling Corporators not to lose control of VVWW? Is it because they are able to monetise their political power by controlling its operations? It gives them the power to force the staff of VVWW to show undue favours to consumers who may have illegal connections, or those who may not be paying their bills, to supply tanker water out of turn etc. In some wards there is even 24X7 water supply, thanks to the interference of Corporators who have clout while there is a water shortage in other areas where the Corporator is no influential.
According to statistics provided by VVWW, in 2017, 15 percent of consumers have illegal connections and 50 percent of the meters were not working. No company can work for long if it fails to recover its total cost of operations. When JUSCO was getting ready to leave, MCC was not ready for transition.
Most of the assets — software and hardware — installed by JUSCO were dumped and there has never been a study to hold any one accountable. For most Corporators long term is just one election. A random visit to VVWW office will convince how political interference has adversely affected its operations.
Hopefully this time with all the stars aligned optimally, the curtain may finally come down on VVWW drama to usher in a glorious future as envisaged by Sir M. Visvesvaraya while building KRS in 1932.Public must come together to put pressure on Corporators to support the idea of an independent and professional body to manage VVWW. If we had Ward Committees at this time as per 74th amendment, they would have facilitated such public discourse.
[The author is an USAID Consultant and was in charge of restructuring a gas company in Georgia which had similar problems like VVWW]