Water Lenses: Prelude for New Imagination for Urban Water in Mumbai

Abstract: The paper investigates the modes of negotiation related to water resources in the city Mumbai and attempts to formulate a new imagination for popular discourse on the water resource acquisition, allocation and consumptions, which also represents a case for most of the third world cities.In course of developing critical arguments on the perception of water which is normally observed in realm of ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Environment’, there are numerous negotiations needed at different levels to achieve or practice the same. To quote an example of informal water distribution in the city of Mumbai, which operates in an illegal manner but on other hand the daily needs and related enterprise of certain community is highly depended on the same informal supply.Further, with the stated assumption that in a particular system the access to water is made available through number of negotiations at different levels, it becomes imperative to identify the various hybrid systems and see the players that operate on these territories. The territories as mentioned will not be restricted to physical demarcation, but will be interpreted through specific investigation in area like historical importance or practices of communities, the enterprise and related livelihood, formation of co-operative groups etc.

Various players will be investigated ranging from political and bureaucratic players, big and small water related enterprises, plumbers, informal water vendors, etc. and stories will be written about the players and the related water systems in the context of Mumbai.

Bio: Tushar Bhor has completed his formal education in Architecture (2003) from Mumbai and then persuade his fellowship (2004) from the same college i.e. KRVIA, Mumbai on the Water Management. He presently works in a NGO – Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, India and holds a position of Program Officer. He is also part of Mumbai Fort Forum (MFF) a group of young professionals, struggling with government agencies with an aspiration to do some work in conservation of built environment. His current interest lies in understanding water systems in realm of different negotiation that they undergo. The related works include a visual spot message on water conservation, an ongoing research project with SARAI, Delhi and also intends to produce a documentary film on the informal water vendors of Mumbai City.

Email: tushar_bhor@yahoo.com


1st Posting: Working Title: WATER LENSES – Prelude for new imagination for urban water of Mumbai. Hey every one, myself Tushar V Bhor, a Mumbaikar and is qualified as an Architect (2002-2003) and then pursued fellowship from Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies, Mumbai (2003-2004). Presently, I am working with a NGO, Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, India, on professional capacity as a Program Officer. In addition, I am also part of Mumbai Fort Forum (MFF), which is group of young Architects aspiring to do some work in conservation in the City of Mumbai. The present topic for Independent Fellowship titled “WATER LENSES – Prelude for new imagination for urban water of Mumbai” is developed through my recent investigation in informal system of water supply in old city of Mumbai for the purpose of documentary film. Rather, the investigation becomes part of the larger argument that I intend to make through this fellowship program. Imagine the infuriating moment, if there is sudden drop in the pressure of your tap while taking a bath. You surely do not forget to swear the unknown responsible person, who ranges from family member or the plumber, who must have recently repaired the system or infact the society secretary, you had a fight over GBM and even to an extent the municipal corporation. Such incidences, knowingly or unknowingly reminds some of the players involved in providing water to you. Consider this above incidence as one of the loop in the chain, then it can be assumed that there will be several such players involved in the water resource acquisition, allocation and consumptions. I further put forth the argument that, such players exist in the City with creation of their own territories. To begin investigation, the territory can be defined as – “It is a spatial entity endowed of its own identity. This own identity is characterized by its limits, its history, and also by the manner in which the social groups that live within in manifest themselves, and gives an impression to others outside. It is composed of a social and institutional actor organization”. (Anastasia Anguelatou, 2005: Reference from the synopsis of PhD. thesis titled, ‘The informal economy of water and sustainable development’). I will support my initial argument by stating an example of Mumbai City. The liberalization policy initiated in 90’s triggered for so called “new economy” in the city. One of the characteristics of this was the resultant role of State changing from provider to facilitator. This was evident through disinvestments of State and shift in development mechanism through private sector participation. The second characteristic was development of service economy, which created new working and living conditions in the City and these changing trends are seen in housing, transportation and resources utilization.

Water being one of the important resources depicted a peculiar characteristic ranging from state provided centralized system to community based informal systems. In first case, although the centralized system of water supply is 8th largest in the world, there exists 33% of unaccounted consumption that is presumed to being consumed by government institutions (This is in reference to the study conducted by group Water Group in 2003). Second, is the increasing number of small scale water operators (also other then slums) functioning through extremely organized structure, which acquires and distributes the water by developing own tactics. Both the cases represent a peculiar imagination, one is the critical imagination on the role of the state as service provider/facilitator and second, in the context of marginalized community, where the system becomes mode of sustenance and livelihood.

Further, if an assumption is made that in any system, the access to water is made available through number of negotiations at different levels, then it becomes imperative to identify the various hybrid systems and understand the players that operates on these territories. The territories will not be restricted to the mode of legality or illegality, but will be based on the opportunities, which allow specific negotiation for water resource acquisition, allocation and consumptions. Hence through this initial argument, I intend to construct an imagination, as against the ideal imagination, for water resource acquisition, allocation and consumption. Various players will be investigated ranging from political and bureaucratic players, big and small water owners & managers to society level water operators, plumbers and water vendors, etc. Various stories will be identified about the players in the context of their operating territories. These stories will be positioned through the layers of development of the Mumbai City. Regards…………………..


2nd Posting:

Working Title: WATER LENSES

Prelude for new imagination for urban water of Mumbai.

After making my intial argument and identifying lense for further investigating, presenting some of the stories:

A story of Pakhaliwallas’:

The name Pakhali-walla comes from the word Pakhali or Masak, which means, a leather bag that is used to carry and distribute water. A Khaki colored shirt and lungi is the prominent dress code which they follow and is inherited from their ancestors, who use to water the dusty roads of Bombay during colonial period. This cult inhabits on the streets of Bhuleshwar (part of an indigenous core of old city of Mumbai) and works under a master who happens to pay them daily/monthly wages. The job is to collect the water from the water cart in the Pakhali and distribute to the surrounding area as per the need. The master has about 8-10 Pakhaliwallas and is responsible for the day to day functioning of his business. The prospective clients in this case are not fixed and ranges from the hawkers in the vicinity to migrant community working in the small enterprises.

The existence of this particular water distribution system depend on the other systems which are positioned in the same area and include, the temple complex from the water is pumped into the hand carts, which has about 5000 liters capacity of water tank. The cart in turn is operated by two people, who are only responsible to carry water from source (temple complex) to the main distribution place (street where the entire group resides).In this case the cart is owned by the master, but if required the water can be bought from the other water cart puller, who work independently as the owner of the cart.

The entire supply chain depends only on one well which is in the temple complex and is surviving since the year 1700. Presently the temple is owned by the trust and is part of the residential and small commercial development. Other than supplying water of the well to the residents, the trust’s forefront agenda is to gain some money by selling water to the water vendors. An elaborate pumping system is developed from the well to the main entrance of the temple complex, where it is operated by person in charge for this system and is appointed by the trust. This guy also interacts with water vendors and is responsible for collection of money and maintaining daily accounts. The well is not recharged by any means and still has perennial source and holds a myth that the water will not dry for ever by the grace of the GOD in the temple and it should be removed continuously to avoid the overflow. In this way the trust gains some money for the maintenance of the complex and also expresses goodwill for the society by providing water.

A story of Contractor:

A building contractor undertook a petite work of repair of a building in Chunnabhatti, which is an area in central suburban part of Mumbai. The repair work was very simple and diminutive and involved mainly the plastering work of the building, but was time consuming since it was spanned between the months of monsoon.

The contractor being exposed to the method of water harvesting, he devised a mechanism to reduce the cost of the project and in turn wanted to try out the model for water conservation practice during construction period.

He calculated the number of water tankers needed to carry out the entire repair work. It was about Rs.30,000/- as per 50-55 tankers that were needed at the cost of Rs.600 per tanker. More over in such arrangements, the hidden cost is about 20% of the basic cost, which includes delivery of tanker, workers sitting idle or loss of quantity during transport. Hence the total outlay would be more likely to be around Rs. 35,000/-. Alternately, he designed and constructed a temporary tank in the side open space of the building with the capacity of 5, 50,000 liters and it costed him around Rs. 14,000/- with saving or profit of almost Rs. 21 thousand.

Further with his kind concern for the conservation of the water in the city, he proposed the society member to continue the system and explained them the importance of the system in context of reducing the dependency on the municipal supply. Out rightly the proposal was rejected by the members due to the mere operational and capital cost that was involved in it. Hence the tank was destroyed by the contractor as he left the site after completing his work.

A story of Pani Committee:

Members of Pani Committee provide voluntary services and largely include team of youngsters. The job of the committee is to serve drinking water to the community coming in for their daily prayers in Jamat Khana (community center). They are more active during evening prayer hours and periodical auspicious days. The pani committee has a designated space in the Jamat Khana and roles and responsibilities of the members are well defined. This particular activity of extending services by becoming a part of the pani committee provides an individual opportunity to offer their voluntary social services to their community, which is one of the mainstay of Ismaili constitution. The cost involved in the operations and maintenance of the committee and its activity is completely subsidized by the co-operative housing society (CHS) where the Jamat Khana is positioned, becoming a part of larger residential complex in one of the dense areas of Mumbai called as Dongri. Being an indigenous core of Mumbai, the housing and water supply network in the society and vicinity is about 80-100 years old and has shown many alterations and additions. The initial water supply to the Society was thru centralized system and was sufficient enough to generate the pressure for elevating the water from ground to upper two floors without pumping. In consequent years, extra floors were added and need was felt to construct an underground tank within the society premise. The entire supply network was imbalanced which resulted into installation of booster pumps at individual household, connected directly to the main municipal water pipe. Presently percentage supply to the household completely depends upon the efficiency of the booster pump installed and the family member operating it.


3rd Posting:

Working Title: WATER LENSES

Prelude for new imagination for urban water of Mumbai. Apology for delay! Infact I was waiting for 1st April since had to visit Gharapuri village and meet the sarpanch. I will elaborate about the findings in the story mentioned below, but in short the Gharapuri village is part of the world Heritage Site of Elepahanta Caves and the locals have recently voiced their grievances, in demand for basic facilities of water supply and electricity. Before lengthening this posting, I would like to clear the argument that I intends to make through this research paper. It tries to investigate the systems that community or individuals have developed to acquire, distribute and consume the water in the city of Mumbai. It does not try to highlight the illegal realm that the systems are exposed to, but would try and understand the related manifestations, which ranges from informal distribution network, an enterprise depended on water, a group developed against water problem to the individual perception and practices towards water. To generalize, I have used the term “Territory”, a reference from the synopsis of PhD. thesis titled, ‘The informal economy of water and sustainable development’ by Anastasia Anguelatou, 2005. I don’t claim that all the stories that I will be presenting are unique cases of Mumbai only, but in a way are placed in context of the economic development, representing scenrios of most of the third world cities.

The third posting includes a narration on:

A water shortage problem in villages where Elephanta Caves are situated, which claims to be world Heritage Site.

Dhobighat which contributes about 4-5 crore rupees to villages per year and contrary depends upon 30 – 40% water supply thru illegal connections

A story of World Heritage Site: Elephanta Caves

For many years it has been weekend picnic spot for Mumbaikers and the influx of tourist suddenly increased after it getting recognition of World Heritage Site. In the advent of increasing awareness on the heritage conservation and as one of the requirement of UNESCO for a site to be qualified under World Heritage list, a renowned trust working in area of conservation along with Archeological Survey of India (ASI) have prepared a management plan for the site. The core area under consideration includes one of the 3 villages, which becomes entry point to the caves and also support tourist activities (hotels, shops, eateries, etc). On other hand, the villagers are screaming against the injustice by the authority. The basic demands include water supply, electricity, medical facilities and recognized school. The villages do not have any pipe water supply and the villagers fetch water from the nearby wells.

(3 villages depend on 7 wells, which do not have perennial source). In this aspect recently villagers of Gharapuri under the leadership of their sarpanch had given ultimatum to the government to provide the minimum services, failing of which tourist will not be permitted to enter the site. About 10 lakh tourists visit the caves every year, of which 1.5 lakh are foreigners and they shell out $5 to ASI and about $50-60 when they are accompanied by tourist guide.

The local economy and the livelihood of 1200 villagers depend only on the tourist activities. The water needed for hotels is taken from the nearby well and during the dry spell (April to June of every year) water is supplied from Mumbai. A boat carrying tank of 10 thousand liters of water daily, twice a day is supplied to the Shet Bandar (village at the entrance of the site). The required amount for the supply from Mumbai is subsidized by the zilla parishad.

The allied activities include selling of water in plastic bottles, which is filled up from the spring water source at the caves. The water from this specific spring is allowed to be used by villagers only and livelihood of 40 – 50 families depend upon the selling of water, earning about Rs. 50 per day. The other income source of the villagers is through posing for foreigners with water pots on the head, some time up to two levels, which are normally empty without any water.

A Story of Dhobighat:

A 2- 3 minutes walk from the Mahalakshmi station and some meters below the road level one of the so called “Tourist destinations” which is assumed to be thriving. Dhobighat with the approximate area of 2,10,000 Sq.ft. was established during British regime and continue to functions after undergoing transformation, due to mechanized methods of washing. Definitely the technology (electric washing and driers) and has speedened the process and has caused substantial reduction in space that would be otherwise required for the same activity. The activity has also triggered for developing newer occupations within and outside the enclave such as ironing stalls, retail of washing powder, shops dealing in machine repair, chemicals etc. that are found adjoining the outer periphery of the enclave.

The activity is performed under the aegis of Dhobi Kalyan Adhunik Vikas Co-Op society. The prospective clients include from the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) hospitals, Caterers, Laundries, Garment factories (which is termed as Bada kaam),Offices, Restaurants, Private firms, to the clothes from Residential Buildings (termed as Chotta kaam).There are approximately 1026 patthar (washing stone or washing units) and is either owned or rented within the dhobi community. The monthly rent to the MMC is Rs. 300 which includes the sheer rent of washing unit and the water charges. Each enterprise owns one patthar and depending upon his business other adjoining patthars are taken on rent. Increase in the patthar and subsequently the business, demands for more water resources, which can be easily availed illegally by paying 15-20 thousands to the concerned authority. As per the locals, this phenomenon is increasing and presently 30-40 % supply might be through illegal connections. In addition, the electric supply needed for operating machines is also illegally purchased from other agencies that have electrical meters at a fixed rate that ranges between Rs.200 to Rs. 400 per month.

At the rate Rs. 2 per hour of cloth wash, each working Dhobi earns anywhere between approximate Rs. 200 to Rs.350 per day. Of the 1026 patthars or wash stones 100 are non functional and each patthar generates approximate Rs. 400 to Rs 600 per day and Rs. 12,000 to Rs.18, 000 per month. The annual turn over of Dhobighat is thus estimated at about 10 to 12 crores of rupees of which approximate Rs. 2,00,000 is paid as patthar/wash stone rent per year to the MMC. Other than the tax paid to the MMC, water and electric supply is illegally purchased from other agencies that have electrical meters at a fixed rate that ranges between Rs.200 to Rs. 400 per month.

Out of the effort, a dhobi is able to send in Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 16,000 back home to his villages, for the family and through the Dhobhighat at Mahalaxmi alone, the city, contributes anywhere between 8 to 10 crores of rupees to the villages, each year.

Over the years, the Dhobhighats have been hugely promoted as a potential tourist site in the city. The overview of this enclave from the nearby Mahalaxmi station bridge attracts not only tourists but also even pedestrians to view the ‘exhibition’ taking place in the commune below.


6th Posting:
Working Title: WATER LENSES
Prelude for new imagination for urban water of Mumbai. Where does rehabilitated slum dwellers get water from? A story of private society:
The monthly maintenance and periodicals of the housing society is recently undertaken by the women’s group living in the housing society itself. This particular society is located in Kausa (in Thane district of Mumbai Metropolitan Region). There are 84 units in the housing society, all shifted from the near by slums or dilapidated chawls into 1 Rm + Kitchen accommodation with the help of community based organization. As claimed by one of the women member that in past there were only elderly male members involved in the managing committee. The main concern with the society now is to clear the pending due of couple of lakhs, out of which large amount was incurred towards the electric bill for the pumps installed for supplying water within the premise. In addition to the pump used for pumping water from underground to overhead tank, suction pump is installed directly on the municipal water supply pipeline. The reason being, low pressure in the main line and according the members it is a normal practice of installing suction pump in the entire area. The society also has a water operator and his work is to maintain and operate the water supply system within the society. The women’s committee is now working on collection of the due from the residents thru effective management system and accounting process, where as the tools like suction pump and actor like water operator has become integral part of the system for routine life. A story of SRA scheme: Daily between 8-10 AM and 7-10 PM, the residents of Bldg No. 8 at Vashi Naka (located North of Mumbai and at the threshold of New Mumbai) queue up for water collection. The queue is not at the community tap, but for the private water vendor, who makes daily visits to the premise for providing water to the residents. It cost’s them around Rs.1/pot and in case if the residents are not in a position to carry the water upstairs, an extra of Rs.3-5 /pot is charged by the vendor. The building faces this problem since its establishment under the Slum Rehabilitation Association (SRA) scheme (under the government of Maharashtra). The building is provided by the physical infrastructure of pipelines to individual houses and also overhead and underground tank, but does not have the municipal water supply. One of the main reasons is that this SRA scheme is developed on the higher level and therefore the municipal water does not reach the site thru gravitational force. The society also gets some water from the nearby well situated in the masjid, where the owners of the well are kind enough to give water without any charges. On other hand the enterprise of water vendors is largely prospering, where BMC provided community connection becomes the source of supply and employed water vendors ride the pots on the bicycle to the needed site.