Many interesting aspects about the reality of water distribution and shortage have been revealed from conversations I had with residents of different neighborhoods of Dharavi and Mumbai . I had prepared ten questions for these interviews; however each time this was just the kick-off for lively discussions about different issues of water management. Here are some of the most interesting points.
The Durge family, from the municipal chawl in Koliwada:
The family of six gets water for 2 hours a day (4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.). For all residents of the municipal chawl, the water is metered jointly, and the cost is included in their monthly rent. However, water pressure has been low, so the family’s 1.000l tank can not always be filled up entirely. This means that when the water will be capped for a day per week, family members will not be able to wash themselves or their clothes that day.
According to the Durges, the low water pressure is due to the many illegal connections that tap into the main pipeline which runs closeby to their house. They estimate that only 20-30% of the water connections in Dharavi are legal! One of the reasons for this is the price for a legal water connection: between Rs. 10.000 and 12.000, plus about Rs. 1.800 in bribes. Mr. Durge argues that corruption is the biggest problem associated with Mumbai’s water system, which is also the reason why illegal connections run by the water mafia that sells the water at overpriced rates to people that have no choice than to buy it, are not stopped by the government.
The Durge family is very interested in installing grey water re-use facilities in their house as part of a larger effort by the government for water conservation. Poor families, however, they think will need help to finance the equipment and installation of such devices.
Prince and Rita Koli from Koliwada:
Though having the privilege of a private water tap in their house, Prince and Rita reported about water fights happening in their courtyard between members of six different families that share one tap. A lot of water gets wasted in this process because it is spilled on the ground. Shouting happens on a daily basis now from 4:30 a.m., because the water pressure is so low that not everyone is able to fill their buckets, drums, and other vessels during the water hours. However, there is also a lot of solidarity since everyone in the neighborhood has to rely on illegal water connections. Day-long water cuts have already occured here recently. In this case, families connected to different networks (there is no obvious delineation between the networks) would share with their neighbors, though this can require to carry the water quite far sometimes.
The family of eight has an 800l tank, but due to their home being located on the 2nd floor, it only fills up half or one-third on average. A motor pump gets the water in the tank above the bathroom. The Kolis would require 1.000l daily to get by comfortably. Their water supply is metered and billed monthly by illegal water providers who steal the water from the municipal pipes.
Also, one member of the extended family runs a plumbing firm, which in Koliwada is a good business – only few understand the intricate network of hundreds of small pipes running through the alleys.
Bhau Korde, of Rajgir Sadan building, near Sion station:
Mr. Korde and his family live in a building about 10 years old, which has a legal, metered water connection. There are storage tanks on the roof, in the basement, and in each individual unit above the bathrooms. The monthly bill is split among all residents of the building. He argues that there is a lack of incentive to save water generally in Mumbai, because of lack of metering. People connected to illegal networks often pay a fixed monthly fee, or not at all. For those connections that are metered, hardly any are metered individually, so the water use does not reflect in the water bill.
His call is to invest first and foremost in meters, and to have a flexible pricing system that would charge double the amount per liter for those who exceed the per capita availability of water in the city of Mubmai (currently around 90l per day).
Jaya Vimalraj Nadar and women from her community, from Sangam Galli:
This community is hit by the water scarcity harder than most others. The very small homes have limited space for water storage, and the number of existing taps per capita is below average. There has already been cases of several day water cuts in this poor neighborhood, and the women reported that the government has recommended to them to go back to the villages during dry season, because there is not enough water for everyone.
Actually, this is what they will have to do if water cuts longer than two to three days happen. Threats for this to happen have already been expressed to the community by government officials, they say. This would mean people will not be able to go to work during that time, and Jayas daughters won’t be able to attend school or college.
Most of the families here are from Tamil Nadu, and they feel this is also an issue of discrimination against non-Marathans.
The women feel strongly that the government owes them better infrastructure, especially since candidates have repeatedly promised this before elections, literally buying people’s votes.
Water usage here is already very efficient; additional greywater re-use facilities would have to be very small and well-fitted into the limited space.
I have experienced an exceptional sense of community amongst the families here. The limited resources are being shared, and the women have organised themselves to form a group of spokespeople, who also take on other community leadership roles.I also had the opportunity to speak to several people living in larger, multifamily highrise buildings. Though I have found most Mumbaikars are extremely well informed about the water issues Mumbai is facing, among the members of this group I spoke with, some are less aware than others. Most flats have a 24h water supply, because the building complex would manage the storage, and would purchase additional water from tankers if required; however nobody knows where these tankers get the water from!
Individual water tank capacities are usually around 200l per person.A local architect friend told me about water issues in local building practice. Many of the newly constructed houses in Mumbai do not envision rainwater harvesting from their roofs or greywater re-use systems (for toilet flushing), though installation of such devices would be easy and relatively low-cost. He argues that there is a lack of awareness of water scarcity for the city as a whole among those who have enough money. A recent news article, however, suggests that the city is considering to make rainwater harvesting mandatory for all new developments, as is already the case in many big cities in India.
Many thanks to Larson Vaiti and Prince Koli for translating the interviews that were conducted in Marathi or Hindi into English.