With authorities failing to adequately provide for lakhs of parched citizens from rural, and even some urban areas, the scorching summers appear to be the ideal time for water tanker owners to make a killing. That’s not the whole truth. While the government is attempting to send fleets of tankers to regions with severe water scarcity, the money paid to the operators is absurd —Rs 118.27 per 1,000 litres and an additional Rs 1.36 per kilometre. To compound this, records show that there are outstanding amounts still to be paid to many. This explains why when tenders were being invited in February, not a single water tanker owner came forward.
Speaking to MiD DAY, officials attached to the block development office, Jawhar, admitted that there was no response to the water tanker tender floated by the Thane collector. An officer, who did not wish to be named, said, “The tanker operators are paid as per the government decided rates on per day basis. The rates were last revised in 2009. As per the rate card, for every 1,000 litres, the tanker operator is paid Rs 118.27 and another Rs 1.36 for every kilometre.” Explaining the payment structure, the officer added, “Water tankers with a capacity of 7,500 litres are paid a fixed amount of Rs 887.02 per day and Rs 10.20 per kilometre, while a tanker with 10,000 litres is paid Rs 1,182.70 and Rs 13.60 every kilometre. Finally, tankers with capacity of 12,000 litres are paid a preset amount of Rs 1,419.24 per day and Rs 16.32 per kilometre. He also clarified that the cost of fuel is deducted from the final bill of the tanker operator if he has availed the diesel facility given by the government, or else he is entitled to full payment.
Not worth it
Vasai MLA and chief of Shramajivi Sanghatana, Vivek Pandit also confirmed that no tanker operator submitted tenders this year. Tenders are usually floated by the collector, Thane between April and June to tackle water scarcity in rural villages and padas. However, the low rate, which the government offers is not acceptable to the tanker operators, especially considering the price of diesel has gone up to Rs 55/l in rural Thane. Pandit added that the roads connecting villages and padas in Mokhada, Jawhar and Vikramgad talukas are in poor condition, and some areas are situated as far as Nashik border. Also, there are no fuel stations or garages on the entire stretch, making it difficult to tackle an emergency situation, or if the tankers develop a puncture or malfunction midway. Besides, mobile connectivity is almost non-existent in certain hilly areas.
“The government pays peanuts to tanker operators, expecting them to do charity. Naturally, most of them are not interested. Instead, many tanker operators are keen to supply water to urban areas of Vasai, Mira-Bhayander and Bhiwandi, where they can easily make a few hundred rupees per trip and even the infrastructure is much better,” explained Pandit. Pandit has already written to the chief minister, asking for an increase in the per day rate by 30 per cent, and another 30 per cent on the per kilometre rate that currently exists. The situation is so grim that local bodies and block development offices have to call in tankers from Vasai, Bhiwandi and Wada to meet the requirement.
A senior officer at the tehsildar’s office in Mokhada said, “The collector has the power to even seize water tankers if the owners do not agree to ply. But so far such a situation has not come up. We had a meeting with tanker owners in Wada and they have agreed to support the cause.” However, the situation in Jawhar is different. Local authorities had only one water tanker to cater to 12 villages and padas in their jurisdiction. They were promised two more tankers, which are yet to arrive. Meanwhile, two water tankers were left abandoned outside the additional collector’s office after the drivers refused to ply on the bad roads connecting the villages of Jawhar and Mokhada. “We are looking for the drivers, who ran way, and are contacting the tanker owners to get the issue sorted out,” said officials from the additional collector’s office.