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There's enough water in Vaitarna dam, but slums forced to depend on water mafia

Monday, 12 May 2014 - 5:20am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

If the civic body so decides, it can increase its revenue by giving water connections to slums that now depend on the water mafia, as was suggested by municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) may continue to lose several crores in revenue because of the illegal water connections in city's slums. According to a civic official, it is the state government that is to be blamed for this.

On June 13, 1996 the urban development ministry ordered MCGM not to give water connections to slums which had come up after January 1, 1995, the cut off date for regularising slums. As a result, a substantial number of shanty-dwellers stopped getting water legally and they hence turned to the water mafias, which illegally taps water from pipelines and sells it for a premium.

Raju Korde, an activist from Dharavi, said: "The civic body supplies water to authorised slum-dwellers at Rs 3.40 per thousand litres, plus a 33% sewerage disposal charge." The mafias sell water at Rs 4 per litre. "The mafia brings water in tankers and sells a five-litre can for Rs 20," said Veluswamy Naidu, a senior corporator.

Swambhiman leader Nitesh Rane had conducted a campaign against these mafias a couple of years ago. And for a while they went into hiding, but now they are back and minting money. Rane had alleged that corrupt officials in the water department were hand-in-glove with these mafias. Taking cognisance of the problem, municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte had written to the urban development ministry last December seeking a policy change that would permit BMC to provide legal water connections to post-1995 slums as well. He is yet to hear from the mandarins in Mantralaya.

Kunte's letter, which has been accessed by dna, says water theft was resulting in law and order problems. Moreover, not providing water is a gross violation of article 5.5 (A) of the Maharashtra Slum Dwellers Area Act, 1977, as per which all slum dwellers are to be provided basic civic facilities like water. "Unauthorised water connection, stealing of water, unauthorised work on water pipes, getting water illegally and not paying water tax are the most common problems. The practice is common, especially in M-East, L and P-North wards (Mankhurd, Kurla and Goregaon-Malad-E)," the letter says.

A civic official couldn't agree more. "Water is a basic need. So if the BMC doesn't provide water to post 1995 slums, people there will surely opt for unauthorised connections." "Water from unauthorised connections is expensive. It could also be contaminated affecting people's health," he added. Almost 60% of city's population live in slums. Slum Rehabilitation Authority data show that the number of huts in the city has increased from 8 lakh in 1996 to 13 lakh in 2013, and slum population in the corresponding period has increased from 40 lakh to 65 lakh.

Another civic official said: "There is sufficient water in middle Vaitarna dam for BMC to provide water to all slums." "If the government makes up its mind, the problems of unauthorised connections and contaminated water can be resolved. It will also help increase government's revenue," he added.

Last year, the BMC had cut off more than 5,000 unauthorised water connections from the city's slums. Activists working closely with slum residents say the number of unauthorised water connections go up during election period. "If the government decides to change the policy in the next two months, it could have a major impact on the assembly elections," said Nirja Bhatnagar, regional manager, Action Aid-Maharashtra, an NGO working in the slums.

Principal secretary of UD department Shreekant Singh did not respond to repeated calls and messages.

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