Free flow: After weeks of stalemate, administration decides to open hydrants

They were closed weeks ago due to the claim that KWSB officials were accepting bribes for illegal ones.

Saad Hasan October 20, 2012

KARACHI: The government decided on Friday to reopen the city’s hydrants after succumbing to the pressure of private water contractors who went on strike and stopped supply to homes, offices, cattle farms and even the National Stadium, which is hosting a much-awaited cricket match.

The decision to seal hydrants followed a controversy surrounding Karachi Water and Sewerage Board’s senior officials, who were accused of taking kickbacks and allowing people to use illegal hydrants.

The price of 3000-gallon water tanker jumped from Rs2,000 to Rs2,500 after illegal hydrants were sealed a couple of weeks back in successive police-backed operations. Slowly KWSB shut off all the hydrants - even the legal ones.

On Tuesday, Karachi Water Tankers Owners Association’s members took a stand and parked 8,000 vehicles for an indefinite period, demanding the water board to open all the hydrants.

A committee led by Karachi’s commissioner, Hashim Raza Zaidi, took the decision to reopen the hydrants. The committee also included Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) administrator Muhammad Hussain Syed and KWSB’s managing director, Misbahuddin Farid. “We looked at the problem purely from an administrative point of view. The hydrants need to be opened for people’s convenience,” said the commissioner. “Eidul Azha is approaching and a lot of difficulties were surfacing.” The water board’s piped water system does not cover a large part of the city, he said. “Someone has to look at the miseries of all the residents.”

But water tanker owners said they will not resume supply until all their demands were met. “We will meet the commissioner on Saturday and then decide if the service has to be restarted,” said Hazoor Ahmed, association’s general secretary.

The association also wants KWSB to slash commercial water charges immediately. “I know people are facing difficulty, but the government should have realised the gravity of the situation.”

There are 21 KWSB-sponsored hydrants and an unknown number of illegal ones which suck water out of the water board’s pipelines, which is then sold on a commercial basis.

By Friday evening, the situation was so bad in some parts that offices closed the washrooms. A resident of DHA’s Phase 7 Jawad Usman feared he and his neighbours will be without a drop in three days. “My water supplier says he won’t be coming until the strike is called off. We have cut down the consumption to a bare minimum.”

DHA, Baldia, Dalmia, Korangi, Surjani Town and New Karachi are some of the places where residents rely solely on commercial tankers for their daily requirements. The water hydrant issue even pushed the water board’s managing director to resign after he was accused of turning a blind eye to dozens of illegal hydrants, stealing the city of millions of rupees of revenue.

Karachi’s water demand stands at 1100 MGD against a supply of around 450 MGD, causing a massive shortfall in the city.

But Farid told The Express Tribune that he stood by his decision to rid the city of the hydrants. “I have to do what government asks me to do,” he said referring to decision of reopening the hydrants. “Nevertheless, we will review this decision after Eid.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2012.


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