New teeth to stop water theft, tough battle ahead

In the special BBMP council session on water more than two weeks ago, Chickpet corporator A N Shivkumar (BJP) complained about the number of unauthorised water connections in his ward. He requested Mayor S K Nataraj (BJP) and BWSSB Chairman P B Ramamurthy to look into the matter.

water meter

Is the Cauvery water you use metered? Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

This complaint comes well in time as just last month on April 16th 2010, the state assembly* passed an amendment to the BWSSB Act, 1964. Section 108 (a) of this Act is with regard to theft of water which is a punishable offence either with upto three years imprisonment or Rs 5000 fine or both.

Section 108 (b) of the Act says that those who abet this theft of water, including officials and plumbers, will also be punishable.

At the council session, Ramamurthy explained this new legislation to the corporators, seeking their cooperation in identifying offenders and taking them to court.

“Before this we didn’t have any power under law to take action. Now that we do, you need to help us in this”, he said, asking the corporators if they would be willing to come to Court and sign on an affidavit in these cases.

The Bangalore Water supply and Sewerage and certain other laws (Amendment) Act, 2009

108A. Theft of water – (1) Whoever dishonestly obtains water supply through illegal connection or tampers meter or uses tampered meter in any manner resulting in non-recording or wrong recording of consumption of water or damages or destroys water meter/apparatus so as to prevent accurate metering of water consumed, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a tenure which may extend upto three years or with fine; or with both.

(2) If it is proved that any artificial means or means not authorised by the Board exist in consumption or use of water by the consumer without being recorded by the meter, it shall be presumed that the consumption or use of water has been dishonestly made by such consumer unless contrary is proved.

108B. Abetment – Without prejudice to any penalty or fine which may be imposed or prosecute proceeding which may be initiated under this Act or any other law for the time being in force whoever including any officer or the employee of the Board or the licensed plumber abets an offence punishable under this Act or enters into or acquiesces in any agreement to do, abstains from doing so, permits, conceals or connives at any act or tiling whereby any theft of water is committed, he shall be punishable with the same punishment provided for the offence in this Act.

Section 109 says that a fine amount of five thousand rupees will have to be paid for the above offences.

Even as there was an eerie silence in the council hall, one BJP corporator stood up and remarked, “People have illegal connections because they don’t get water. If you supply water, then this problem won’t be there”.

First, identify the illegal tappers

With the BWSSB estimating that there are at least 15,000 unauthorised connections in Bengaluru, the first task at hand is to identify these connections.

Chickpet corporator Shivkumar says unauthorised water connections are in abundance in his ward. Chickpet primarily consists of commercial establishments. Shivakumar says that lodges, hotels and some residences have about three water connections, one of which is metered, while the remaining two are just tapped off the ‘legal’ one. He cites the examples of Anchepete, Cubbonpete, BVK Iyengar Road and Kilari Road among others which have unauthorised connections.

Shivakumar claims that these establishments use water worth Rs 50,000 but end up paying only about Rs 2,000 or so.

“This is all done with the BWSSB in the know. The engineers and inspectors know about this”, says Shivakumar, adding, “Some pressure needs to be put on them. I have told the Mayor, BWSSB Chairman and BBMP Commissioner.”

Shivakumar says that local BWSSB engineers have told him that there are at least ten to 15 per cent unauthorised water connections in the ward. “They (local engineers) say, ‘We want those connections’. They’ll get money right? That’s why”, he says.

Similar problems have been reported in other wards. At the council session, Congress’s Lavanya Ganesh Reddy, corporator of Lingarajapuram (Ward 49) in Bangalore east also complained of illegal water connections in her ward.

BJP’s Chandrashekar Raju, corporator of JP Nagar (Ward 177), says that though his ward does not have illegal connections, he will do a survey of the ward, and submit a consolidated report to the BWSSB within the next three months.

Despite the Chickpet corporator’s statements, official sources in the BWSSB are projecting a different picture.  They say that most unauthorised connections are in low income neighbourhoods which are thickly populated.

The water board has kick-started a one-month drive, starting May 15th to identify these connections, says a top BWSSB official. “We have already authorised about 2000 connections. Most of these are in the slums where the people are financially poor. We are educating them”, says the official, who requested anonymity.

S Vishwanath of Rainwater Club feels that it is the non-domestic/commercial/industrial thefts that should targeted first and a lenient view taken of domestic connections. Simple walkabouts by the engineer-in-charge and authorised plumbers will identify most of these illegal connections, he says. “All efforts must be made to legalise the connection first and to ensure universalisation of legal connections (with a pro-poor policy in place) before the penalties are imposed…”

Addendum

* Updated June 4th 2010

The amendment was passed in the state assembly and not by the Cabinet as mentioned earlier.

About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

4 Comments

  1. Sub- Illegal borewell unit installation at Bhubaneswari Nagar, 2nd Cross, Hebbal, Bangalore North.

    On condition of anonymity we on behalf on the residents of 2nd Cross, Bhubaneswari Nagar, Hebbal wish to inform your kind office that there is an illegal bore well unit running near Aditya Greens/ Iris Supreme/ Aditya Springs/ SLS Symphony Aprt which supplies water on commercial rates to Godrej and other nearby/ city locations to the tune of 100- 300 tankers on a daily basis because of which we the residents are facing acute shortage of water supply in spite of having our independent bore-wells.

    We understand that the individual running this illegal business is highly influential and we alone may not be able to curb his illegal activity because of which we wish to inform your good office for further necessary action.

    We highly appreciate your immediate necessary action against the above activity.

    Bangalore Citizen Forum, Hebbal

  2. The “eerie silence” of the corporators in response to Ramamurthy’s request speaks volumes about these thugs – they’re all hand-in-hand with the water thieves. Let the BWSSB begin a pilot project in one ward and then measure compliance in all others.

  3. There is ward-wise data available for Non-revenue water with the BWSSB (BWSSB ward). Both financial and physical losses need to be targeted and brought down. If there is a roll our of the free domestic water connection promised to over 100,000 households by the BWSSB under a JBIC programme simultaneously with the regularisation of ‘illegal’ domestic connections things will be in control.
    49 % as total Non-revenue water- which is the situation in Bangalore- is completely unacceptable

  4. Thanks for this article Vaishnavi. How difficult is it for the BWSSB to stop illegal theft? Once about 10-20 people go to jail, the theft situation will start reversing quickly. The comments of our hon councillors is enlightening!

    Also want to point out something. The cabinet has no powers to pass an amendment. It always has to be the legislature (assembly). Your article indicates otherwise in the text. Maybe an inadvertent slip?

    Turns out that this amendment is Act 15 of 2010. As you know, once the legislature passes the law and it gets notified in the Gazette, we have a law. One of the quirks here is that the Department concerned has to make “rules” which go with this act. Some passed and notified laws have no rules (such as Karnataka Apartment Owners Act) which puts the act in limbo.

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