In deep trouble: Employees’ ‘war’ with WASA deprives residents of water

Say that they will not resume the water supply till they receive their salaries.

Our Correspondent July 18, 2013
People taking drinking water from the water tank of WASA in Hyderabad. PHOTO: FILE.

HYDERABAD: The staff of Hyderabad Development Authority and Water and Sanitation Agency has threatened to suspend the water supply and drainage system in the city as a mark of protest against their management.

They accused the officials, especially of Wasa, for not paying the staff their past six months’ salaries and for sacking hundreds of employees.

“Initially, we will suspend the water supply and stop the drainage system for eight hours daily from 9 am to 5 pm. By July 23, we will start a 24-hour closure if our demands are not met,” Muhammad Aslam Abbasi, leader of the Mehran Workers Union, announced at a press conference on Thursday. He also demanded restoration of jobs of around 300 contractual workers who were fired early this month.

The row over the delay in salaries and allowances between the management and staff of Wasa has being going on for last several years. Officials of the agency have cited low recovery and absence of funding from the provincial government, which stopped subsidising Wasa in 1991, as the main causes of their financial woes. “We have been trying to increase our revenues to meet our expenditures but haven’t been successful so far,” said the managing director Saleemuddin Ahmed, refuting the allegations that Wasa was deliberately withholding salaries.

The agency’s monthly expenditures come up to around Rs50 million, which includes salaries of its workers. Its recovery from the utility bills, however, was hardly around half of its expenditures, claimed officials.

The agency had a workforce of around 3,450 employees before it began downsizing by firing around 300 staffers early this month. With its current employees, Wasa manages five filtration plants, 30 pumping stations, 70 pumping sets and 15 generators for water supply, three sewerage disposal sites, 84 pumping stations, 138 pumping sets and 35 generators for the drainage.

Mismanagement or short on funds?

The union leaders have blamed the officials for mismanaging the finances and also for embezzlement. “Wasa recovered around Rs180 million in May and June, out of which Rs100 million were spent to give three months’ salary to employees whereas there is no account of where the remaining Rs80 million went,” said Abbassi.

According to the union’s president, Raja Khan Palari, around 1,400 regular employees and over 1,500 contractual ones have not been paid salaries for four and six months, respectively. He opposed terminating jobs when according to him, there were still 800 vacancies in the agency.

As the two sides locked horns over their internal disputes, the citizens in dozens of markets, hundreds of residential colonies. Main roads and intersections in Latifabad, Qasimabad and City tehsils remained submerged in sewage water. According to an official at the Jamshoro road Filtration Plant, almost half of the district will remain without water till the protest continued.

“Wasa and Hesco have been unable to synchronise the timings of water supply and load-shedding which is causing water shortage in many localities. Keeping the supply blocked for one third of the day will only increase misery of the citizens.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2013.

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