Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement of a waiver of late payment surcharge on water bills pending till November last year and a waiver on water charges not paid, mostly due to irregularities in bills or meter dysfunction, based on property tax category areas will perhaps do more harm than good. While residents in posh colonies (category A & B) will receive a 25% waiver, those in the poorest (category E, F, G and H) will get a 100% waiver. Those in category C and D get a waiver of 50% and 75%, respectively. But, like all the “in-the-name-of-the-poor” schemes, this will end up subsidising the rich while the poor buy water in a business-as-usual manner.
Apart from putting those who settled their dues earlier at a loss—thereby creating a moral hazard, where people start expecting such exemptions and holding off payment—the waiver obviously will apply only to households with metered connections. As per the government’s own data, nearly a third of all Delhi households, mostly in slums and unauthorised colonies, don’t have metered connections and are forced to buy water from over-priced, erratic tanker services. As a result of the Delhi government’s water waiver policy, inequitable access to water will not just get entrenched, it will be paid for by the government. With over R2,800 crore due from customers, the scheme will erode Delhi Jal Board (DJB) already scant profits—Kejriwal had proudly announced that DJB made a profit of R178 crore last year—there will perhaps be precious little left to expand the DJB pipeline network for some time to come, meaning the most vulnerable will remain at the mercy of over-priced water from private sources.