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Dhaka WASA basically has three areas of responsibility - water supply, sewerage and water logging. The Dhaka WASA board sees significant 'success' in the performance of the authority's managing director (MD) Taqsem A Khan in dealing with these three responsibilities and has approved the proposal to extend his tenure by yet another three years.

On the other hand, the mayors of both the Dhaka city corporations have questioned his performance and have blamed the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) for the city's water logging, among other problems.

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There is a huge difference between reality and Taqsem A Khan's apparent 'success'. There is hardly a single resident of Dhaka city who dares to drink WASA water straight from the tap without boiling it or filtering it at first. Many homes do not even get regular water supply. The sewerage system is still a part of the Master Plan and a large section of Dhaka is submerged in water during heavy rains. People have simply learnt to live with it. The lack of transparency and accountability in WASA's projects is nothing new.

Despite this dismal reality, on 19 September the WASA board approved the proposal to reappoint Taqsem A Khan as MD. At the board meeting, the WASA deputy managing director (administration), Mahmudul Hasan, raised the proposal to appoint him for the sixth time.

To justify the proposal, he reeled off a list of Taqsem A Khan's successes and seven of the board's 10 members acquiesced. One of the members, however, demanded that an independent inquiry be made into the allegations of corruption against Taqsem A Khan.

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Also supporting the proposal to reappoint Taqsem A Khan, member of the WASA board and Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) secretary general, Shaban Mahmud, said that the quality of WASA water had improved. There was no shortage of water and system loss had been curtailed. Taqsem's 11-year experience as WASA MD was also taken into consideration.

A resident of Jurain, Mizanur Rahman, turned up at the WASA office with a jug of water and lemons to make lemon juice for Taqsem A Khan, since the water was so 'drinkable'. The WASA MD refused to drink the water

A writ was filed with the High Court on Thursday concerning Taqsem A Khan's appointment as WASA MD.

Drinking water, claims and reality

According to the minutes of the board meeting, WASA's deputy managing director Mahmudul Hasan, justifying his proposal, said that in 2017 after Taqsem A Khan became MD (for the fifth time), there had been significant improvement in "drinking water supply according to the requirements of the capital city's residents."

In order to determine just how drinkable WASA's water actually is, over the last one week Prothom Alo spoke to 30 WASA clients in 20 areas of the city, including Mohammedpur, Dhanmondi, Shewrapara, Jurain, Mirpur and Kalabagan. There was not a single person who thought that WASA's water was drinkable.

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A resident of West Shewrapara said, WASA water has an odour and is in no way drinkable. It cannot be drunk without being filtered.

Yet at a press conference on 20 April last year, Taqsem A Khan claimed that WASA water was one hundred per cent drinkable. Two days after that, a resident of Jurain, Mizanur Rahman, turned up at the WASA office with a jug of water and lemons to make lemon juice for Taqsem A Khan, since the water was so 'drinkable'. The WASA MD refused to drink the water.

Water crisis despite surplus production

In the praises for Taqsem A Khan made at the board meeting, it was said that the daily demand for water in Dhaka was 2.4 billion (240 crore) to 2.5 billion (250 crore) litres. But WASA produced 2.6 billion (260 crore) litres. So there was water in surplus.

The procedure of the board meeting itself was faulty. Most of the members at the board meeting were influenced by Tasqem A Khan into approving his reappointment
IftekharuzzamanIftekharuzzaman

Yet WASA records show that there is a 22 per cent system loss. That means, 22 per cent of the water does not reach the clients. So if WASA actually produced 2.6 billion (260 crore) litres a day, 572 million litres (57.2 crore) is wasted in 'system loss'. The clients receive around 2.02 billion litres (202 crore 80 lakh) litres. The shortfall is 372 million litres (37 crore 20 lakh litres).

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According to the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), a person living in Dhaka requires at least 150 litres of water a day. If there is a 372 million litres shortfall of water, then 2,480,000 people will certainly face water shortage in some way or the other.

When clients face a crisis of water, they contact the concerned WASA MODS Zone from where water is supplied or the hotline. Then they had to buy water. WASA sends water by a lorry to the client's house and the client has to pay for this.

WASA has been a complete failure in resolving the city's water logging problem. There is invariably water logging every time it rains. Taqsem A Khan no longer wants to take the liability of water logging.... he wanted to hand over this responsibility to the city corporation.

Contacting MODS Zone-3 (Lalmatia), MODS Zone-4 (Mirpur) and MODS Zone-5 (Mohakhali) on 23 September, it was seen that demands for water came pouring in from the concerned areas. That mean these households had no water. Till the evening on that day, there were demands for 16 trucks of water from MODS Zone-3 and 78 trucks of water from MODS Zone-4. Till the afternoon, there were demands for 49 trucks of water from MODS Zone-5. There were 58 demands from MODS Zone 8 and 9 till the afternoon on that day. On Sunday demands were made for 30 trucks of water from MODS Zone-3.

A client has to pay Tk 400 for the 3,000 litres of water carried by a WASA truck. It is Tk 500 for 5,000 litres. Then Tk 100 or 200 have to be paid in tips.

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Taking credit for revenue

As part of the justification to reappoint Taqsem A Khan, it was pointed out that the organisation's revenue had increased. It was said that in 2008 WASA's annual revenue earnings were Tk 3 billion (Tk 300 crore). In 2019 it was Tk 13 billion (Tk 1,300 crore). But officials within WASA themselves dismissed this inflated revenue as eyewash.

They said that the price of water in the residential sector has increased by 251 per cent over the past 11 years. In the commercial sector it went up by 208 per cent. The price was water went up, but WASA's profits did not increase in that proportion.

Taqsem A Khan took over as MD in 2009 and WASA's profits then were around Tk 410 million (Tk 41 crore ) annually. Ten years later, in 2019, the profits were around Tk 390 million (Tk 39 crore). So the claims of enhanced revenue under Taqsem A Khan are questionable. On the contrary, the price of water was hiked 12 times during his 11 years in office.

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Failure to address sewerage and water logging problems

WASA's only sewerage treatment plan, the Pagla sewerage treatment plant, was set up in 1977. Only 20 per cent of the city is covered by this plant. And even the sewerage of this part of the city is not treated properly. But the clients have to pay bills for this.

WASA took up a Master Plan in 2012 to increase the capital city's sewerage facilities. A project under this was passed in 2015. The project was supposed to be completed by 2019, but by this June it had advanced only 66 per cent.

And the authority has been a complete failure in resolving the city's water logging problem. There is invariably water logging every time it rains. Taqsem A Khan no longer wants to take the liability of water logging. In a letter sent to the local government ministry recently, he said that he wanted to hand over this responsibility to the city corporation.

Foreign investment or loan burden?

Among the praises showered on Taqsem A Khan at the board meeting, it was said that he had brought in foreign investment. It was said that there was hardly any investment in WASA in 2008, but after Taqsem A Khan took over, foreign investment stands at Tk 3.2 billion dollars.

However, there are questions even within WASA concerning this investment. Certain officials say that this investment basically is loans with interest attached. At the end of the day, the consumers will have to pay for it.

According to a letter sent by WASA in September last year to the local government department, justifying the price hike of water, it was said that there was maintenance costs to pay as well as the burden of foreign loans.

Executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), Iftekharuzzaman, speaking about the overall issue to Prothom Alo, said that the failure of WASA and its present MD was clear. The statements made at the board meeting may be the personal opinion of those who spoke.

He said the procedure of the board meeting itself was faulty. Most of the members at the board meeting were influenced by Tasqem A Khan into approving his reappointment.

* This report appeared in the online edition of Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir