RAWALPINDI: Even after facing an acute shortage and no guarantee of receiving an uninterrupted supply of water in their homes, the people of Rawalpindi will now have to bear an increase of almost 1,000 per cent in water charges. The decision to increase the charges came after the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) and the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) looked for ways to meet their fiscal deficit.
Besides, the agency has also decided to change its billing cycle to a monthly one as against the previous three-month cycle. To stop water theft and charge people in accordance with their usage, the agency has further decided to install water meters and the pilot project for the purpose is expected to start within the next three months. In the next phase of the project, all domestic and commercial consumers in Rawalpindi will be billed through the new meters.
Rawalpindi WASA has also decided to increase the rates for the installation of new connections in rural areas, a move that is backed by the municipal bodies under the new local government system.
Per the new decision, both residential and commercial consumers will have to pay increased water charges and a summary in this regard has been sent to the Punjab government for approval.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, WASA spokesperson Umar Farooq maintained that a similar decision was taken in the past and a summary regarding that had been sent to the Punjab government in 2009 but the decision could not come into force owing to political interference.
“Water charges should have been increased much sooner but the move could not be materialised. We have now forwarded a summary of the decision to the chief minister of Punjab for approval,” he said. “Once approved, the agency will issue separate bills for each floor of a triple-storey residential building instead of a collective bill for the entire building. This will be followed in commercial buildings too as all shops would get separate bills.”
Inflated water tanker prices
Meanwhile, WASA has also increased the rates of water tankers for both commercial and domestic use. During a survey conducted by The Express Tribune, it was learned that it takes almost three days to get a WASA water tanker delivered to a house if a proper and legal channel is followed. However, for a quicker service, residents of the garrison city are compelled to bribe officials.
Seizing this window of opportunity, the private tanker mafia has built tube wells on private lands and is selling water on hiked rates. The survey revealed that most of the private tanker companies are owned by influential figures. During summers, the owners make hay by increasing the rates to as high as Rs2,000 per tanker for domestic users.
Haji Ikram, a private tanker supplier, said that his business would shut down the day WASA starts supplying water to each household properly.
Increase in water connection charges
Meanwhile, with new local body system in effect, the municipal committees have also decided to increase the residential security fees for water connections to a non-refundable amount of Rs2,000. The security fees for commercial connection has been enhanced from non-refundable Rs3,000 to Rs4,000. Under new tariffs, the charges for service stations, playgrounds, water parks and swimming pools would be Rs5,000 per month, while Rs1,000 would be charged from mosques and religious seminaries.
The tariffs for five-marla residential units has been hiked from Rs300 to Rs1,000, while charges for commercial consumers have surged from Rs600 to Rs1,500. Similarly, the new tariff for a judicial complex has jumped from Rs1,500 to Rs5,000. For tehsil headquarters (THQ) hospital, the new charges would be Rs20,000 monthly instead of a collective cost of Rs150,000 annually.
Commercial users would be brought under the new tariff bracket while petrol pumps would be charged Rs1,500 instead of Rs883.
For service stations, there has been an increase from Rs7,063 to Rs12,000, while for dry cleaning shops, the tariff has been increased from Rs883 to Rs2,000.
Wedding halls and marquees have been divided into five categories corresponding to their capacities and they would be charged a minimum of Rs3,000 up to Rs15,000 monthly.
Private schools will now be paying as much as Rs5,000 for water installation instead of Rs500 monthly. The new tariff will also impact owners of vegetable farms, nurseries, and hostels, among other facilities.
Chairman Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) Tariq Murtaza told The Express Tribune that the WASA board of directors have approved the new tariff and the decision would come into effect after approval of the Punjab chief minister.
Meanwhile, the RCB has also approved an almost 100 per cent increase in water tariffs for domestic and commercial consumers across all areas in the jurisdiction that would be enforced from April 1.
Opposition from residents and businesses
The business community of Rawalpindi, including traders, private-school owners as well as domestic consumers, have refused to accept the decision and have demanded WASA to ensure adequate water supply first. Per sources, the business community has hinted at the possibility of staging a protest against the measure.
During the survey, residents of different areas in Rawalpindi, including Pirwadhai, Fauji Colony, Bangash Colony, Shakrial East and West, Muslim Town, Bihari Colony, Khanna Dak, Raja Sultan neighbourhood, and Ratta Amral also warned WASA of staging a sit-in outside its office if the suggested tariff was imposed.
“We receive water at our homes for only an hour per day, and at times, we don’t get water for weeks,” Sharif Qureshi, a resident of Rawalpindi complained. “Initially, WASA should ensure the provision of clean and adequate water supply as per the needs of each home, then it should resort to increasing the charges.”
The president of Markazi Anjuman-e-Tajran Sabzi Mandi Ghulam Qadir Mir termed the decision of sending separate bills to each shop of a plaza and each floor of a three-storey building as “cruel.”
He asserted that WASA did not supply water as per the requirement of each shop so much so that people were forced to buy mineral water bottles for drinking purposes. He further added that many people have to fetch water from filtration plants located at distant locations from their businesses.
“We will not accept this cruelty!” Qadir said.
The Divisional President of All Pakistan Private School Management Association (APPSMA) Abrar Ahmed Khan also criticised WASA and said that an increase of almost 900% in the water bills of all private schools is totally unfair.
“Educational institutions are not commercial. They are built to serve the society,” he said. “WASA should charge no more than Rs1,000 per month from schools.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2020.
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