Farmers foil water tariff hike, for now

Maharashtra’s water regulatory authority to hold more public hearings

By Rajil Menon
Published: Sunday 28 February 2010

imageOn January  21, the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority tried to get the public to agree to its formula of fixing bulk water supply tariff at a meeting in Pune. Farmers and non-profits walked out of the meeting saying the approach paper on fixing the tariff favours industries over farmers and ignores the principle of equity.

The regulatory authority (MWRRA) wants to reduce cross subsidy to farmers and domestic users; the meeting was organized to decide the final criteria and regulations for fixing the tariff based on the approach paper prepared by MWRRA. Bulk water tariff is meant to recover cost of maintaining dams and canals; municipal corporations, industries and farmers groups are termed bulk consumers for determining this tariff.

Over 200 farmers and 60 non-profits participated in the consultations. They began protesting as soon as chairperson of MWRRA, Ajit Nimbalkar, completed his introductory remarks. “The approach paper is available only on the authority’s website and most farmers do not have access to the Internet. Unless they read and understand the nitty-gritty details, no decision should be taken by the government,” said N D Patil, senior leader of Peasants and Workers Party.

Maharashtra is the first state in the country to have a water regulatory authority and this was the first consultative process on tariff regulation. “After repeated demands for bringing equity and affordability into tariff regulations, the authority retracted the proposal to hike tariff on agriculture and has made a number of concessions. But the methodology for fixing bulk tariff is still not sound and open to influences by dominant groups like industrial houses in future,” said Sachin Warghade of Pune non-profit Prayas.

Datta Desai of the Academy of Political and Social Studies in Pune said: “The process initiated by MWRRA would lead to fixing of regulations that would impact all future processes on determining public water tariff.”

The bill to set up MWRRA was passed in a hurry in 2005, along with 15 other bills, without any debate. The authority only has bureaucrats and no independent members. The MWRRA has not established any conduct of business rules; this is to avoid accountability, said Subodh Wagle, professor and dean of School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. MWRRA said six more public hearings will be held.


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