Crisis creation as a municipal exercise

Published: Sunday 15 February 2009

Indore and Mysore do not want to face the challenge of urban governance

USUALLY it is in the summer that water appears in newspaper headlines. Spring is yet to arrive--although the blooming rhododendrons in Uttarakhand (See Spring in winter)do not seem to know--and the summertime urban rituals have already set in. While farmers in Himachal Pradesh have refused to sell land for a dam to supply water to Delhi, Indore now has declared a water emergency, (See Malwa is thirsty) and Mysore in the south has signed a contract for water supply distribution. (See Water for profit) Whether this provides water or not, it has fuelled controversy.

Blaming poor rainfall for the water scarcity, Indore's municipality has announced a string of measures that show its desperation--stiff penalties for misuse and wastage of water, among them. It has talked about tackling corruption in water distribution through tankers and over-head tanks. Citizens say all this is to merely cover up decades of water mismanagement, which is the real cause of the present crisis.

Indore's desperate measures show the municipality cannot shelve the crisis any more, which is a healthy sign. The first stage of solving a problem is to accept it. The measures, however, are not well wrought. With unmetered connections, exactly how the municipality will plug the leaks is unknown. With an average supply duration of less than 45 minutes, water use is already regulated. Definitions--like misuse--lack clarity. Which agency will monitor the implementation is not known. If not executed well, the citizens will not get water and cries to get more water from faraway sources with get shrill. As it is, the measures are considered temporary as the city hopes to get more water from the Narmada. This means the city will not create incentives for water conservation.

In Mysore, the financial handling of the water supply contract has raised more questions than the city can answer. But more striking is its desperation to implement the project, when the scale of refurbishment is not known, as also the cost of operation and maintenance. The contract has been kept secret, leading to suspicion of corruption. The people are not told how their representatives spend public money.

Indore or Mysore, urban mismanagement results from poor politics and an aversion to public debate and democracy.

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