The water wars will come, soon
Around 10 and 20-percent cuts before every monsoon in the city are just a precursor to what can be a very real threat in the years to come
There are a few things that happen like clockwork a month or two before the monsoons arrive. First, the meteorologists who have predicted when the rains will hit and how good or bad they will be, start to backtrack. The arrival and quality of the monsoon are both left open to debate because accountability and transparency are both alien qualities in Maharashtra. We are all left tracking the progress of storm clouds as they drift across Kerala and Goa.
Second, promises made by the BMC a year ago start to arrive with caveats and excuses, because we are gently informed that the Mithi that was supposed to be cleaned hasn't really been cleaned well, sewers that were supposed to have been clear may still be clogged, and stormwater drainage systems that have been in the process of being built since our grandparents were in diapers are yet to function the way they are supposed to.
Finally, there are announcements of water cuts. This is the one that ought to bother us the most but doesn't simply because we now take them for granted. There are usually optimistic statements issued about no cuts for Mumbai residents, which soon turn into 10 per cent cuts and, not long after, 20 per cent. These percentages are bandied about casually, safe in the knowledge that most of us with access to water tanks in our societies or phone numbers of water tank companies in our contact lists, won't notice the difference. It's interesting to point out, however, that in 2019, years after the words 'Smart City' started to appear in every other political manifesto, we have yet to figure out why millions of us still have no access to running water.
Everyone with an IQ of 7 and above can recognise that the water tank companies function like a mafia, staking claim to publicly-owned water bodies, siphoning off millions of gallons without permission, transporting their precious cargo in the middle of nights, charging people for what the government of India has promised is a free and fundamental right of every citizen.
The government itself may disagree, of course, but can always be pointed towards Article 21, which informs the State that not only is it duty-bound to provide adequate drinking water, it must also protect water sources from pollution and encroachment. Think about how well the government of Maharashtra performs on both parameters.
This year, as in recent years, parts of our state were declared drought-prone. As residents of Mumbai, we are spared from understanding what this means, and how it destroys the quality of life we take for granted. According to media reports, rising mercury levels resulted in the depletion of water stocks in 22 dams that supply potable water to Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad a few weeks ago. Some of the dams were reduced to 0 per cent water stock, others had less than 10 per cent of their capacity. Warnings were promptly issued about how the rest of us would have access to a limited amount of water, along with the usual requests to use water sparingly.
It's interesting how these requests are never made to sugar barons who cultivate water-intensive crops for profit despite warnings from experts. It's also interesting how water tankers are promptly deployed to drought areas, but there is no way of figuring out if they arrive on schedule, or end up in the utensils of those who genuinely need them.
One can always ignore these issues using the convenient excuse of them being restricted to rural India alone. But how must we account for the fact that India is the third worst among 122 countries on the water-quality index? How do we explain the decrease in levels of groundwater? How do we account for the shocking possibility that 21 Indian cities including Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Chennai, are expected to run out of groundwater within the next couple of years? In case you're wondering, none of this is based on conjecture. Google it, and send the links to your nearest government official while you're at it.
Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been at war over who has access to the water of the River Cauvery for the better part of a century. There have been negotiations, tribunals, hearings, and protests on both sides. We are staring at a future where a lot more Indians will start to worry about water more than the petty issues our successive governments have taught us to obsess over. Do think about that when you reach for a faucet.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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