Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
The Parched Tiger: Water … Luxury Vs Scarcity?

Via The Economic Times of India, a look at water stress in India:

What do Varanasi, Goa, Chikmagalur, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Delhi, Hubli, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Allahabad, Vasco, Tirumala, Bhubaneshwar, Nagpur and a lot of other towns and cities in India have in common? They all suffer from acute water shortages that only get worse in the summer months. As the population suffers, politicians from various political parties put up a charade of concern for the ‘aam admi’ even as the lines outside the government tankers supplying ‘potable’ water grow longer. During all this, the water supply through pipeline turns from a trickle into nothing.

There are scores of reports — from expert groups, self-styled experts, government agencies, international agencies and not to forget sundry NGOs — that warn of the growing unrest due to water scarcity if the situation is not addressed. Years ago, a Bhabha Atomic Research Centre report had said: Assuming a conservative figure of per capita water consumption of 1000 m3/year, the water availability in the country is likely to get fully stretched by the year 2010 unless augmentation is planned right now.

As expected, this was just one of the hundreds of such reports that were consigned to the shelves somewhere even as those who could do something about it played football with the issue. And the reason, all the technical explanations proffered by experts notwithstanding, is pretty obvious — those who have to take the call or are in positions where they can make a difference are never affected. It is the same, all-pervasive VIP culture that ensures that these guys remain insulated from the miseries. For them, the problem is always a minor one and never alarming. Remember what I said about the petroleum price hike too?

There are instances galore. In a middle-class South Delhi DDA colony close to the airport, for example, while most others have to make do with 20 minutes of low pressure water supply twice a day (some may consider even that a luxury), a former bureaucrat who was a member of the Delhi Jal Board once, has a tanker filling up his overhead tank every day. Anyone else who calls DJB for water is told that he is in a queue, which could mean an assurance of a tanker of ‘potable’ water in a couple of days and that too rarely materialises. And this is not an isolated case. The story repeats itself all over. In the water-starved Hyderabad, almost all water tankers are on ‘VIP’ duty for the ministers and senior bureaucrats so that they have enough to waste.

To be honest, to blame the VIPs alone for the mess we find ourselves in would be unfair. Anybody who can, is happy to abuse the system to lead the life of VIP, community resources can go take a walk.

Delhi’s immediate neighbour, the millennium city of Gurgaon, has perhaps the highest concentration of golf courses in the country. Despite the soothing green looks and ‘celebrity’ claims to the contrary, golf courses are bad for the environment. They consume excessive water to remain in pristine condition, and in a perennially water-starved area like Gurgaon, the only way it can maintain itself is by drawing ground water from the almost depleted water-table.  But when has depleting a community resource even as the rest of the population struggles to cope with a trickle dissuaded the rich and powerful?  In the most exclusive address in the city that overlooks a golf course, another multi-storeyed monstrosity is now coming up. And since there is no ‘bloody’ exclusivity if the new complex owners too have to look at the existing golf-course, they are building another golf course exclusively for the new complex. So, there would be two championship golf courses side by side. And the demand for the apartments is such that the builder is apparently unable to cope with. Everybody is happy to lecture as long as it is applicable to others.

If you probe further, you would realise that the list of those who own these apartments is a whole lot of nouveau riche who hold forth on environment during high-profile parties. But the most sought after locations, including the tom-tommed penthouses, are invariably owned (not necessarily in their own names) by the big and powerful politicians. These are the guys who extracted these prime spots in return for approvals for the misuse of water that would otherwise not be forthcoming in any decent democracy.

Let us move out of Gurgaon to the issue at hand. You may have seen a report recently that blamed the rampant use of water purifiers using the Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology for water shortage in several cities. RO system, as it purifies, also discards copious amounts of water with impurities that most residents simply allow to run into the drains. But should one blame the users for this?

We grew up on tap water supplied by the authorities. It was the safest water to drink. But over a period, the quality of water being supplied has plummeted to shocking levels, and that, aided in no uncertain terms by the scare mongering indulged in by those whose business it is to peddle bottled water or purifiers, most are now scared to drink tap water directly for fear of water-borne diseases. While it would be premature to scream sabotage by vested interests, the authorities cannot shy away from their total failure. The common man is left with no option. At around Rs 10,000 per filter per home, it is not that it is easily within the budget of the ‘aam admi’.

In fact, according to a recent study by ASSOCHAM, the water purifier market in India is expected to more than double in the next 3 years, from the current Rs 32 billion to Rs 70 billion by 2015.

All this is nothing but a telling commentary on the abject failure of our authorities to cater to the basic needs of its populace. And whenever the administration fails, those who make money out of miseries of others, grow in strength, often in connivance with the authorities.

As I have often said in the past, thanks to the media, the social media and a generally aware populace, corruption as an issue is now part of public debate. Those who misgovern and rob the citizens of one of their basic needs should worry even more. Corruption ranges them against the powerful, but when water scarcity sees them at each other’s throats, at one level they know who is responsible for this. That fury, once unleashed, would be even stronger than the one against corruption, for their basic need is at stake now. They will not tolerate the corrupt enjoying the basic necessity of life even as they show disdain for the common man.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 13th, 2012 at 2:33 pm and is filed under India.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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