Thursday, January 8, 2009

Air is gong to cost more than water

Air is gong to cost more than water
Razen Manandhar
The price the residents of the Katmandu Valley have been paying for the air that comes from the dry pipelines (except for an hour or two in a week when water really appears to drip) is going to be more expensive than ever, thanks to the pressure of foreign investors of ambitious water projects and slave-like mentality of government officials. Despite protests from various consumers' organizations and civil society networks, the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL)has decided to hike water tariff very soon. The brazen decision of the so-called public-private partnership institution is now guided by foreign managers. While, the two other institutions Water Management Board and Water Tariff Fixation Commission have turned out to be puppet bodies of KUKL.

Following high-scale meetings, delegations and telephone conversations - going on in various hot-spots of the capital from Friday to Tuesday, the KUKL has recently received green signal to hike the water tariff. If it goes as KUKL has dreamed a few months ago, the water tariff will rise from 11 per cent to 150 per cent. And once the flood gate is open, KUKL will think that it has right to raise tariff every year.

The KUKL, which have came into shape after disintegrating the state-owned Nepal Water Supply Corporation and taking out the most profit-making part of it, that is, the Kathmandu Valley, literally failed to do "anything" to provide service to the thirsty denizens of the capital city. Neither they could make good relation with the public, nor they could do better homework to increase supply side. From the very beginning they were doing their best to hike the price, for, it was the mission of KUKL to do so, to let ADB release loan money for the tunnel construction of the Melamchi Water Supply Project.

In fact the KUKL was born not out of necessity, but to please the foreign investors. The concept of "privatization" was conceived in Nepal and was forcefully introduced the hybrid kind of privatization by the government not because the service of former Kathmandu section of NWSC was hopeless and this KUKL will come up with a magic stick. But there was a clause in the contract between the government and the ADB that the there must be some foreign kind of management of the water distribution body before it will release the loan money for construction of the Melamchi tunnel.

Melamchi has been a boring story for past several years. Even the promoters of this ambiguous "almost half a billion dollar" project are not sure when the water will really be flown in the valley's surface from this project. Even if the things go as smoothly as the politicians often speak, it is going to take at least half a decade from today's date. And the government does not have a single concrete plan how to supply water to the 4 million people of this centralized city in the years to come. Still, the government officials as well as political leaders from "revolutionary" parties cannot find time to think of some alternative solutions to the ever rising water crisis. The bankruptcy of intellectuality only drives them to go to the foreign investors and plead for some unfathomable amount of loan for some hazy kind of project. And, the investors, taking full advantage of the present situation, tie the almost impossible service to indispensable need and make the naive citizens slave of the bureaucracy and technocracy.

In one way, we may also try to be rational and think that why cannot we let KUKL do something if it wants to, after hiking the price.
Having assumed that the tariff hike is the need of the time, there is no guarantee that the situation of water scarcity will ever improve after the tariff hike. It is as clear as the day what the KUKL has done for the consumers of the three major districts of the country. Neither quality not quantity of water has shown any visible improvement in past 11 months. Both in the Monsoon as well as the dry season, the KUKL was just passing excuses. This shows that there is no relation between the proposed price hike and improved future. The situation was only dilapidating. What might have improved is just the pay scale of some selected employees of the Limited, into which we many not have to poke our noses.

Next, we may also tend to become more wise and say that why we cannot let the KUKL hike the price if it will open the gate of Melamchi tunnel construction? If the tunnel has to be there, there should not be any "if's" and "but's" to stop it from being there. And there is no reason why those "businessmen" who want to invest millions of dollars in a least developed country, cannot invest some more money by letting the consumers drink water (I mean dry air through water pipes) for some more years if they are sure that there will be tunnel soon and there will be expensive water at every doorsteps soon. This shows that the situation is not going to improve even if the tariff is hiked and the tunnel construction is started. Then why the consumers of the Kathmandu Valley are being made escape goats of some unseen forces?

It is shame that in the whole business, the consumers the the least addressed people. When the water is being sold to the consumers, why the multi-millionires do not find time to listen to them? The locals from here and there go to the KUKL office almost everyday and try to meet the officers who think that Nepali is their colony state and they are here to serve their country. Hardly any of the consumers have chance to see the "god-like" figures of the KUKL management. What we know is that they are impotent and they are reluctant to say sorry. And, we all know, the media persons have always been a no-no for them. When they want to do business with the local people, and when they are introducing a new commodity, which has been regarded as things to donate for past thousand years, they should at least have some sense of salesmanship, which is totally lacking. This only ignites aggressiveness of the consumers' organizations.

Possibilities are there: It is also possible that some underground forces are trying to project the present management of KUKL as failure and to let a new foreign management company take the whole of KUKL. But this does not mean that we play the role of slave and always be exploited by the "service provider" institutions.

Personally speaking, I was born in Khichapokhari, once a populated area of the core city. But I was displaced from my birthplace because of water scarcity. I will be positive to any institution, taking responsibility of water distribution, only when I will be assured that the desired amount of water will be available there and a situation will be made for my rehabilitation.

Even though, naturally, the consumers are still not united to fight against the bureaucracy and technocracy. Politics divide them more harshly than any issue can bind them together. Still, this is the high time for the consumers to let those feudalistic institutions understand the depth of the problems we have been undergoing and ask them the rationality behind raising water tariff. No doubt, the consumers would pay money if the Limited is ready to provide us water with better service. But there is no chance for any businessmen to rise price of the commodity and do not give us even what we deserve. When it has been established that water is people's basic human rights, no state should turn its back to the responsibility of providing every citizen with his or her basic needs.