Between 2009 and 2021 the Dhaka Wasa hiked water prices 14 times
Come July 1, city dwellers will have to pay higher tariff for using running water supplied by the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA).
DWASA used to charge Tk14.46 per unit (1000 litres) water use at household level, but now it will charge five percent higher (Tk15.18) from July.
DWASA prefers terming it as "price adjustment" (to inflation) rather than a price hike.
But people living in Dhaka, a majority of whom are now financially hard-pressed owing to the protracted pandemic, find it increasingly difficult to pay a higher water tariff, which has seen more than a 250% rise over the past one decade.
Interestingly, the DWASA board, which increased the autonomous body’s longest-serving managing director’s salary from Tk4.50 lakh a month to Tk6.25 lakh a month in March this year, had rejected the proposal for a water tariff hike at its March meeting, saying such a hike during the Covid-19 pandemic would negatively impact its consumers’ livelihood. But the same board met again on May 26 and gave the nod to a tariff rise during the height of the second wave of the pandemic in the country
While consumers have been left on their own to decide how they are going to "adjust" the additional water costs, the DWASA board made a huge upward "salary adjustment" for its Managing Director, raising many eyebrows.
Engineer Taqsem A Khan, whose name has gone into the DWASA record as its Managing Director for 12 years and who got his 4th term contract in office last October, is now away from Dhaka, enjoying a three-month work-from-home facility by staying in the United States. He took part virtually in the May 26 DWASA Board meeting that hiked the water tariff.
As the MD’s salary hike issue has come to the surface, Local Government and Rural Development Minister Md Tajul Islam has sought details of the board’s decision regarding the huge jump in salary from the DWASA, Chairman Golam Mustafa.
Efficient in price hike, inefficient in service delivery
When it comes to increasing tariff on water, DWASA has never missed an opportunity to do so. But when the question is one of implementing projects – towards providing better water and sanitation services to its customers – DWASA performs badly. With most of its water and sanitation projects facing time overrun, public money is being wasted through price escalations in project completion.
Between 2009 and 2021, the period in which Engineer Taqsem has been serving as its MD, the Dhaka Wasa hiked water prices 14 times. Dhaka’s piped water price was only Tk6 per unit back in 2009, but it now stands at Tk15.18 after the latest price increase.
There were even times when DWASA increased the price thrice within 13 months. An example: until June 2016, per unit of water used to cost city dwellers Tk7.71, then in July that year it was increased to Tk8.49. Within four months a 17% hike pushed the price to Tk10 (in Nov 2016) and then yet again, in August 2017, the price was enhanced to Tk10.50.
The DWASA mission statement says its aim is to “constantly seek ways to better serve our customers, implement the projects effectively and speedily, and improve efficiency and reduce the operating cost.” A reality check says otherwise. If one goes through DWASA’s works in progress, s/he will come by a dismal picture.
Here are just a few examples -
Saidabad Water Treatment Plant: Phase-III – DWASA took up this Tk4,600 crore project in mid-1015 to have a plant ready by this June (2021) for treating 450 MLD (million litres per day) from Meghna. Only five percent of the task has so far been accomplished.
Emergency Water Supply Project – to meet water needs of a growing Dhaka population, DWASA initiated a Tk732 crore project to supply 447 MLD in January 2020 with the aim of completing the task by December 2023. However, till now it has been able to complete only 23% of the work.
Emergency Replacement of Water Pipelines – consumers suffer due to supply of dirty water owing to faulty pipelines and DWASA decided early last year to take up a Tk48 crore emergency project to mend the lines by June this year. But in reality it could complete only 38% of the work so far.
Dhaka Environmentally Sustainable Water Supply Project – DWASA took up, in 2013, this project to develop a new raw water intake at the Meghna River, about 30 kilometers east of the city, a treatment plant at Gandharbpur capable of handling 500 million liters a day, transmission pipelines, and distribution network improvements. The Tk5,200 crore project was supposed to be completed by 2020 but its completion time has been extended till June 2022, with the budget having gone up to Tk8,100 crore by now. So far only 40% of the work has been accomplished.
Dhaka Water Supply Network Improvement Project – To strengthen some of its weak water connection lines, DWASA took up a Tk3,182 crore project in 2016, aiming to complete it by 2023. So far no more than 45% of the work has been done.
Dasherkandi Sewage Treatment Plant – This project involves the construction of a sewage treatment plant with a processing capacity of 500,000m3 per day. It includes the construction of filtration units, sedimentation tanks, control rooms, a lift pumping station and related facilities, the installation of pumps, and the laying of pipelines. Beginning in 2015, this Tk. 3,300 crore project was supposed to have been operational by 2019, but it has since been extended to June 2022, with the cost escalated to be Tk. 3,700 crore. So far, 70% of the work has been completed.
Established in 1963, predating Bangladesh, the DWASA has been working as an independent organization with a mandate of ensuring water supply to Dhaka city dwellers and handling sewage disposal. In 1990, the water supply service of Narayangonj city also came under the purview of DWASA. Its activities have been reorganized by the WASA Act, 1996 and, according to this act, DWASA is now operating as an autonomous body.