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Mumbai's water tanker mafia, officials in "nexus" despite victory over authorities for water supply to Ambujwadi slum

By Bilal Khan*
After almost 20 years of existence, Ambujwadi, an informal settlement in Malvani, the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (popularly BMC) may have finally recognized the right of the people and conceded to allow water supply to the slum.
The joint efforts of the organized slum dwellers through Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA) for over two years has, no doubt, finally resulted in the beginning of water supply in the slums of Ambujwadi.
However, only two tankers of 10,000 litres each reach Ambujwadi daily, which is then distributed into 500 cans of 40 litres each. This supply is available only to a small fraction of a large population of around 50,000 in Ambujwadi.
Before these tankers were authorized to supply water, residents had to buy water from private sources where each can of 40 litres was priced at Rs 20-25. Residents would complain that the water they bought from private sources stank and was unclean.
They suspected that it was unhygienic and also the cause of many diseases in the slums. The new water supply through the tankers is priced at Rs 7 for every 40 litre can of water.
The BMC, after allowing water tankers in Ambujwadi, has begun creating newer problems with more absurd rules and conditions that weren’t in place earlier. The BMC is demanding licensed water transporters to take up the contract for delivering water in the slum area, the cost of which is beyond the meagre means of the slum dwellers.
The need for licensed water transporters has become a new, mandatory rule set by the BMC recently, which, say residents, has created more hassles and deny the people of Ambujwadi their right to clean, affordable and legal drinking water.
At double the cost of unlicensed water suppliers, the people of Ambujwadi are grappling with the rates enforced by authorized license-holders in order to meet the unnecessary and regressive rules that the BMC has imposed, they point out.
This is suspected to be a conspiracy of the water mafias, who used to sell water at exorbitant rates in nexus with BMC officials, so as to restrict the supply of cheap water and enable water mafias to continue selling water at high rates and of bad quality.
Meanwhile, the residents have taken upon themselves the responsibility of water supply in Ambujwadi. They have formed a voluntary committee, which includes two women and three men.
While women, under the leadership of Nirmala Singh and Shanta Mausi, take care of the accounts and the responsibility of supplying the 500 cans of water, men have begun facilitating the timely arrival of water in Ambujwadi.
Residents feel that there is a need to look to further minimize the cost of water and make it available to every family in Ambujwadi, for which they would require broader support. The need is also felt for a plan of action so that water supply reaches each family in Ambujwadi at the least possible cost.
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*Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai

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