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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

India: Bangalore Slums Get Bargain Connections
May 2007

Some 43 slum communities in Bangalore got cut-rate water connections as the city’s water utility launched a slum connection project and offered them an attractive water reform package. They grabbed the opportunity and now enjoy water in their households. Joint efforts between the utility and the communities1 propelled this small step toward connecting Bangalore’s urban poor. Can the rest duplicate this success? PROUD CUSTOMERS WITH RIGHTS About 10,000 households in Bangalore’s slums have bought some bragging rights over the majority of the city’s urban poor. They now have water meters installed in their homes and clean, safe water flowing from their faucets. They Social Development Specialist Salma also have become the Sadikha (2nd from left) with NGO proudest customers of the representatives Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), whose slum connection program improved their access to piped water supply and brought about a marked change in their lives. Conceived and nurtured by the BWSSB’s Social Development Unit (SDU), a new unit established to address the social challenges of connecting the urban poor, the program offers affordable connection fees and other perks that attract even the poorest of Bangalore’s poor. With water in their homes, slum dwellers no longer line up on the streets to get water from the public tap stands. Women and men have more time to pursue economic activities. Children, especially girls, do not have to skip school just to fulfill their daily duty of fetching water for the household. Families’ health and hygiene habits have improved. More importantly, they no longer pay water vendors’ absurd prices. Bangalore’s urban poor had only hoped, but never thought possible, that they can become legal BWSSB customers. As one satisfied resident put it, “We can claim our right and voice our concerns now that we are paying customers.” ATTRACTIVE WATER REFORM PACKAGE Bangalore, a fast-growing metropolis in the South Indian state of Karnataka, has a population of around 7 million. About 30-35% belong to the urban poor. Like in many Asian cities, Bangalore’s poor live in slums that co-exist with middle and upper class areas. But while these highclass environments are connected to the city’s water utility, slums rely on public stand posts, bore wells, water vendors, and BWSSB water tankers. Illegal tapping of the system is highly prevalent.

To connect the poor—a sizeable group of potential customers—and dissuade illegal connections, the BWSSB, with support from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), launched a small project between 2000-2002 that sought ways for the utility to deliver water supply and sanitation services to three pilot slums. The project paid off, and over the next five years, BWSSB managed to significantly improve access to piped water supply in 43 slums. Through its SDU, the BWSSB promoted a water reform package that includes Reduced connection fees from Rs.1850 to Rs.800, which can also be paid in installments Acceptance of proof of residence, such as ration card, voter’s ID, and ID issued by the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board, as application requirement instead of land tenure documents Simplified application procedures Pro-poor tariff structure revisions that include lowering the minimum consumption range to 0-8 kiloliters/month at Rs.78/kiloliter. 2 For the average Bangalore slum household, which consumes roughly 7.2 kiloliters/month at much higher water vendor prices, a BWSSB water connection meant less cost for water. The BWSSB also introduced “shared connections” for groups of 5-10 households as another option for the very poor and for those living in extremely congested settlements. PLAY-IT-BY-EAR STRATEGY The SDU constantly experimented with novel strategies in convincing Bangalore’s slum dwellers to avail of the reform package. They knew that following one model would deter, rather than help, their campaign as one slum is different from the others. The SDU also knew that the key was a strong and invaluable partnership with social intermediaries and the slum communities. The SDU partnered with nongovernment organizations or community-based organizations whose long years of work in certain slums proved invaluable. Where these formal organizations are absent, the SDU consulted prominent community leaders. These partners mobilized the community, assisted in the application process, and served as liaison between the BWSSB and the slum residents. Together, they assessed the poor’s capacity to pay and worked out a suitable model for paying the connection fee that is affordable and acceptable to the community.

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Volunteer teams were also formed in some slums which took up the responsibility of resolving water supply arrangements, billings, payments, and other community and individual issues. In one slum, the SDU sought the help of a BWSSB plumber who lived near the area. The plumber, initially none-toowilling to oblige because he was pressed for work, realized the benefits he could get if he managed to bag the contract to connect all 2000 slum households. He became totally involved in the connection work, suggesting modifications in the system to ensure that water reaches even the houses atop the hilly slum. A CHANGED ORGANIZATION Positive changes within the BWSSB itself also became apparent. Most BWSSB engineers working on the SDU initiative used to complain, “We are wasting our time. These people will not pay. They only want free water.” When the project gained momentum, these engineers’ skepticism vanished as they were overwhelmed with the number of people from the slums who were queuing at BWSSB field offices for their water meters. They then realized that slum connections were an untapped source of revenue which would help them realize their monthly targets. Properly motivated, the engineers started to actively engage the urban poor. BWSSB senior management encourage them by providing them opportunities to showcase their experiences at monthly progress review meetings. Because of these changes in attitude, the BWSSB is one step closer to curbing its losses from illegal connections and reducing nonrevenue water. BEYOND BANGALORE BWSSB’s slum connection program took the urban poor by storm, but was not without its share of challenges. Some were initially wary and chose to adopt a “wait and watch” attitude. But soon, they were more than willing to pay the connection fee. A few local politicians even motivated the poor to grab the connection opportunity and pressured BWSSB engineers to fast-track the connections. Today, a Karnataka State Policy for Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, the first in the country, has been formulated with great influence from the BWSSB experience and is now awaiting Cabinet approval for state-wide implementation. BWSSB’s next move is to upscale the project to cover 300 more slum areas in the next five years. With continuous effort and a little bit of luck, there is every hope that the rest of Bangalore’s slum dwellers will be able to enjoy their very own piped water connections.

RELATED LINK Water Champion: Salma Sadikha on When Water Connection Barriers Disappear

_____________________________ 1 In Bangalore, there are 362 slums officially recognized by the government. But there are over 200 unauthorized slums, too. 2 Initially, the lowest slab of the block tariff structure was at 15 Kl/Rs.115. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in May 2007: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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