Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has taken an alarming decision to increase water tariff once again. This is the third instance of water price hike in Awami League’s tenure over the last decade. The price per unit (1000 litres) was only Tk 20 in 2009. In 2017, the government increased the price by 22 and 18 per cent respectively for residential and commercial uses. Within barely three years, the WASA has proposed Tk 20 per unit for residential use what is Tk 11.57 now. For commercial purpose, it has recommended Tk 65 against the existing rate of Tk 37.04.
The managing director of Dhaka WASA said they sent a proposal in this regard which is now at the prime minister's office for approval. Price hike of such an essential commodity is going to put extra pressure on people’s wallets. Not only of water, price hikes of any commodities such as electricity or gas should be carefully thought about as it is bound to create pressure on people of the lower income bracket.
We cannot avoid reality, but the way Dhaka WASA managing director justified the price hike needs a reality check. Excuses for the price hike such as huge investment for upgradation and rise in managing costs are nothing new for government authorities. He forcefully said, “We have cut system loss and upgraded service. So, tariff hike is a must.” However, reports and information vitiate such claims and prove his words to be a travesty of truth.
Only last year, Transparency International Bangladesh in a survey report found out that 45 per cent of the people in the capital do not get the desired amount of water from WASA. And 35 per cent of the city dwellers complained about the poor quality of water. People hardly consider WASA water safe to drink and of good quality. The fact that 91 per cent clients of the WASA boil the water before drinking proves people’s lack of trust on the authorities. Still, the MD of WASA claimed to have improved service quality which is not justifiable. WASA might have improved their services in certain parts of the city which is not sufficient.
The local government ministry, after the proposed price hike, has sought information on prices of water in cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Kathmandu and Seoul. We hail such move to get a comparative picture of prices from elsewhere of the world. There should be a public hearing as in the case of revising the prices of electricity and gas. Consumers Association Bangladesh (CAB) was also demanding such public hearing in recent years.
If tariff hike is inevitable, it should be done based on participation of people to ensure accountability.