Access to potable water is among the globally acknowledged basic rights of a citizen but poor policies in the country have left the rivers dry.
A major portion of over 180 million people, both in remote areas and metropolitan cities, are thirsting for drops of clean drinking water.
This week, The Express Tribune looks at the law and regulations that oversee this basic human right.
Most big cities have civic bodies to provide basic amenities to the residents. The port city of Karachi has the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), which is responsible for supplying potable water to its consumers through taps in adequate quantity. Living on the edge of the sea, nearly 20 million Karachi residents still thirst for a single drop of water almost every day.
In Peshawar, the Water and Sanitation Directorate, under the Peshawar Development Authority, is responsible for providing “high quality water complying with recognized drinking water guidelines.”
New consumers can download connection applications from the official website of the KWSB. A consumer is required to fill in the form and submit it with a copy of the ID card.
One also has to declare if connecting to the water supply network would involve road cutting or not. However, it’s a common complaint among the consumers that bribing the staff can ensure swift connectivity.
While it is not clear if new consumers can download forms from the website of Peshawar Development Authority, there is a comprehensive section for complaints and their tracking on the website.
Unfortunately, there is no mention of the rights of consumers in the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board Act 1996 under which the water utility’s operations are regulated.
Similarly, there is nothing in the Sindh Local Government Ordinance (SLGO) 2013 clearly defining the rights of consumers. Obtaining an illegal connection can land the user in trouble, including heavy fines and/or a jail term.
Under the law, the KWSB is bound to ensure an adequate supply of water to its consumers in return for monthly charges. The KWSB Act 1996 is silent when it comes to failure of the utility in serving the consumers.
A tanker mafia illegally operates in Karachi, which has the oldest governing system in the subcontinent. The SLGO says the relevant district municipal corporation will be responsible for executing schemes of water supply to public and private premises.
“No new well, water-pump or any other sources of water for drinking purposes shall be dug, constructed, or provided except with the sanction of the Council, concerned,” it states. The law is binding on the corporation to ensure those operating the existing private water sources keep them in good order and do not get contaminated.
Legal experts say, however, there is a lack of law defining the rights of water utility’s consumers. For instance, the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972 binds the state to ensure that rivers, ponds or streams do not get contaminated so that they remain fit for consumption by the animals. “It’s ironic the democratic state fails to provide human beings with clean water fit for consumption,” says environmental attorney Qazi Ali Athar.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th,2014.