At the mercy of the tanker mafia

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All for a drop Government tankers supplying water are a rare sight; private players almost enjoy a monopoly. Photo: Shailendra Pandey

IN THE neighbourhood where Kiran Lakhe lives, people haven’t seen water in their taps for close to a year now. Though there are nearly 300 private and government water tankers in Jalna city in central Maharashtra, not one of them supplies water to people from the underprivileged sections — even if they are ready to pay. So Lakhe, an ITI student, often has to miss classes and commute more than 10 km to the city’s outskirts, where he collects water from a leaking municipal pipeline. Water gets splashed on him while he fills his two big plastic cans; that’s the closest he gets to a ‘bath’. “The municipal corporation often repairs the pipeline and seals the leakage, but we damage it again as we have no other source of water. All my weekends are wasted ferrying water,” he says.

Selling water is big business in Jalna. A pot of water is sold for Rs 5 and 500 litres of tanker water costs Rs 250. Jalna district has been given 40 crore just to ensure water supply through tankers, but a government water tanker supplying water to the people is a rare sight. No wonder there is a booming private tanker business, partly controlled by political elements.

“The crisis has become more acute because the contract to supply water through tankers lapsed last month,” says District Collector Shyam Deshpande. “When we wanted to award a contract, no one came forward out of fear of the tanker mafia. We have now persuaded two contractors and they will begin supplying water in the next few days.”

The situation in Osmanabad city is no different. There’s water in the taps only once in 21 days, and that too only for two hours. It’s a struggle for the administration to ensure even this as the water has to be brought from a pond 30 km away from the city and then supplied through the pipelines. In effect, the city’s residents are left with no option but to depend on the private tankers.

Tankers attached to autorickshaws have now become ubiquitous in the city. They charge up to Rs 70 for 500 litres of water. “Water supply has always been erratic in Osmanabad, but due to the drought, the business has more than doubled. Everyone who has a borewell is now selling water,” says Deepak Mane, who owns one such autorickshaw-tanker. According to an estimate, water worth Rs 15 crore gets traded every month.

Balasaheb Devgire, a textile engineer-turned- farmer, has to buy 500 litres of tanker water every day. “More than 10 percent of my income goes into buying water. My family of 12 survives on just 500 litres a day. If we get water from the Ujjani dam (in Solapur district), the water prices would get stable, else they would keep on rising,” he says.

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