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The price the poor pay in Mumbai, Pune

Daily wage-earners pay up to 20% of their wages on water; slum-dwellers pay Rs 5 per can of water; others tap into water lines illegally, or pay the local mafia for the supply...These are stories that illustrate the political economy of water that operates in the slums of Mumbai and Pune

A report by SPARC, ‘Our Needs, Our Priorities: Men and Women from the Slums of Mumbai and Pune Talk About Their Needs for Water and Sanitation’ (done in 2002-2003) by Meera Bapat and Indu Agarwal, points out how stressful and time-consuming the exercise of accessing water is for half of Mumbai’s population -- those who live in slums and on the city’s pavements. Slum- and pavement-dwellers spend nearly 10-13% of their income on water. In most cases it is either the “private” water mafia that benefits or local civic officials.

  • Sagira, who has lived on the pavement near JJ Hospital since 1972, said that she and the other women get up and go in search of water as early as 3.30 am. They try to fill water from the JJ morgue or collect it in the various lanes, failing which they buy it at Rs 5 per handi. (The requirement for cooking alone is some four or five handis per day.) In a recent election, she and others made water a priority issue and said they would vote for whoever gave them a water connection. The Shiv Sena gave them two taps before the elections; a charge of Rs 1,500 was levied for those who wanted individual taps. Sagira got one too. Now they have water. “These are unofficial taps,” she says. “We cannot get taps officially. We have filled in forms so many times but the municipality throws them away. There is no provision for giving water taps to pavement-dwellers.”
  • Susheila Laxman Naidu has lived in the Ramabainagar slum for 24 years: “Until four years ago, water was a big problem. We used to go looking for a leaking pipe. It was not one or two people, but hundreds of us. Occasionally, I used to buy water when I needed it badly. I used to go to some of the houses around and say, ‘Take one or two rupees, let me fill some water’. I used to work in a house in Ghatkopar. I used to bring drinking water from there in an autorickshaw. Four years ago, people paid to have water taps installed. I do not have the capacity to pay for a tap. I pay Rs 50 a month to fill 10-15 small pots -- four buckets (per day).”
  • Surekha Dilip Yadav has been living in Ambedkarnagar, near Vikhroli Park, a large settlement on a hilltop, for more than 12 years. “Water has always been a problem here,” she says. “The pressure is so low that we have had to make a hollow around the water pipe in the road just outside our houses. We fill up water by putting a pot in this hollow under the hole made in the pipe. Ten people fill water at one hole in the pipe. Because we have had to make holes in the water line to access water, insects get into the pipe; mud and dirt go in it too. There are no fixed timings at which water is supplied; it can come any time in the 24 hours of a day. We can go out only after we have filled all the water that we can get.”
  • Spread over 175 hectares, Dharavi is a large and densely built slum settlement in Mumbai with around 1 million inhabitants. Migrants began to settle in Dharavi in the 1930s, when this swampy stretch was at the edge of the city. Dharavi resident Bhagwati says: “I have been here for the past 18 years. Right here. Eighteen years ago we had to go to the Ganesh temple for water. We used to go at 4 in the morning and stand in a line until 6 and get two handas of water. We had to leave the children at home. Five years ago we got a water connection. But when they drilled a borewell, they broke the pipe. Now, the water that we get is dirty and we can only use it for washing. We have to go looking for water.”
  • Rehmat Bi of Kamla Rehman Nagar says: “I do not have a water tap in my house and neither do any of my neighbours in the lane. We pay those who have taps in the lane behind ours Rs 125 a month and take water. We have applied to the councillor, even to the housing minister in the past, to give us public taps, but we did not get the taps. The minister sanctioned money from his fund to give water connections, but only the families that are close to him got water taps. Even now, those who have money can pay for the water connection. “In the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), they require money even to pass on the file. How can poor people afford to pay? If many people take connections, there will not be enough water for everyone. Then we will have to install a motor (electric pump) on the water line. If one family draws water with a motor, others will not be able to get water. In any case, how can the poor afford a motor?”
  • Slum demolitions cause further water hardships. Hemalata Kailash Ardhoo used to live in Tatanagar near Govandi station in Mumbai, where she bought a hut for Rs 5,000 in 1982. There was a municipal tap about 15-20 minutes’ walk away. When that stopped working they went to Govandi station, 10 minutes away. “Then one day, they came with bulldozers and flattened our houses and everything inside. There was no time to take anything away. It was a black day for us. I now live on plot number 138 in the transit camp at Mankhurd. The municipality told us that we would not get a water connection because it was a transit camp. But we had to have water -- there are 900 families staying here. Finally, we took the connection from a building in the neighbourhood and brought water here. But because this is such a long pipeline, the water pressure is very low towards the end of the line. So we buy water from outsiders at Rs 5-6 a can. They get water free from somewhere and sell it to us. One person carries six or seven cans on a bicycle. On days when there is no tap water, they jack up the price to Rs 9-10.”
  • Nearly 100,000 families live in slums on Bombay Port Trust (BPT) land. These slums have existed for more than 50 years but the BPT has not provided any facilities, nor does it allow the local authority to provide water and sanitation facilities. Jyotimani and Arogya Das, who live there, say: “We have to pay Rs 200 per month for water. This is a fire brigade water line that serves the BPT, not a municipal line. So there is water supply the whole time. But it is controlled by local thugs who have fitted motors onto the pipe. If we challenge them, they stop the water supply. Then there is no water. We have to cooperate with them. If we complain to the councillor of the area, he says that he is unable to do anything since we are living illegally on land belonging to the BPT.”
  • Uma, who also lives on BPT land, says: “We pay Rs 200-300 every month, but we get water only once every few days. This hosepipe is connected to a tap near the road, and people have fitted a motor onto the pipeline. Our turn for filling up water can come at any time of the day or night. The day before yesterday, my turn came at 4 in the morning. I was able to fill only a small quantity of water because I had to leave to go to work. We use the water very sparingly since we are not sure how many days it will be before we get water again. Even those families that survive by begging have to buy water. There is no choice. There is nowhere around here where we can get water free. This whole area is a slum. People may not have food in the house, but they have to buy water. Most of the people who live here are daily wage labourers. They are paid around Rs 100 a day. Out of this they have to spend Rs 20-50 just for water.”
  • It is now well-known that there is a strong connection between poverty, gender and water. Chhaya Waghmare lives in the Sanjay Park slum near the airport in Pune, Maharashtra. Her words illustrate this connection better than any academic paper: “There are 280 families in our settlement. Many of them have been there for more than 20 years. The slum has occupied land that belongs to the ministry of defence. And because of that, the municipality has not been able to provide us any facilities. Every day, we get water brought to us in tankers. We start queuing for water in the morning by putting our water containers in a line. If we have to go out, we can leave the house only after we have filled water. My sister stays at home and waits for the tanker, so she has stopped going to school. She studied till the third standard. When the tanker comes there is a scramble for water. There is always a big commotion. We had an awful accident two years ago. A young girl got crushed under the wheels of a tanker as she hurried for her turn to fill water before the tanker came to a halt.

InfoChange News & Features, October 2005