MADURAI: Citing Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia and the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model adopted by Coimbatore Corporation with Suez for 24X7 water supply project, Maduraiites have strongly opposed the installation of water meters, part of round-the-clock water supply project under the Union government's Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme.
The objection was raised in a public hearing, presided over by Corporation Commissioner KP Karthikeyan to discuss the implementation of Rs 325-crore-worth water distribution system at 57 wards in the city. It was for the first time in many years that the civic body was conducting a public hearing.
The residents asked the government whether it could give assurance that the project would not be handed over to private organisations in the future. "We can tell from previous experiences that dependency on loans from international banks (Asian Development Bank funds for Madurai Corporation) comes with a hidden agenda to hand over the operation, maintenance and collection of water tariff to a corporate.
Though the government says that the scheme is implemented to meet the drinking water crisis, at the end of the day, it is a revenue generating scheme for the civic body. Could the government give assurance that corporate companies would never get involved in the project even in future?" asked the residents M Amjathkhan and Vijayarajan.
Vijayarajan, a former councillor of Madurai Corporation, said that the installation of water meters was a failure model. "The civic body tried installing water meters in the early 2000. However, it failed due to various reasons. Besides, now we pay a sum of `950 per year as water tax. Once the water meters are installed, the money would be collected based on utilisation and there are chances of exponential increase in water tariff akin to the hike in electricity charges," he said.
The residents also expressed their concerns over the sorry state of street taps in the city which serve as a major source of drinking water for many.
Meanwhile, Karthikeyan allayed the fear of residents and assured that water tariff would be collected only by Madurai Corporation and not by any other private organisations. "The PPP model is not being adopted here. An estimation of 135 litres of water per day for an individual for all domestic purposes has been made. A control room with an automatic monitoring system would be installed, which would help in monitoring the water supply, identifying the leakage and concentration of chlorine levels," he explained, adding that the public opinions including those against the installation of water meters has been recorded and would be attached to the detailed project report.
Further, he said that the project would only be implemented in a phased manner and priority would be given to commercial establishments and gated communities (apartments), while the water supply through street taps would continue.
Cochabamba Water War
A series of protests took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia's fourth-largest city, between December 1999 and April 2000 in response to the privatisation of the city's municipal water supply company SEMAPA.