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Dhakaites vent anger as Wasa hikes water tariffs

  • Published at 05:45 pm February 28th, 2020
water OPU
New prices will be effective from April 1, according to a public circular Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

New prices will come into effect from April 1, a month after power prices go up

Despite regular and growing complaints from people of Dhaka city over poor water quality and supply, the government has raised the water tariff again for household and commercial consumers in the capital — drawing criticisms from various quarters.

Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) Managing Director Tasqem A Khan on Friday afternoon confirmed the development to Dhaka Tribune. The Local Government Division had issued an order to this end on Wednesday.

This is the second time the prices were raised since last September, and, according to a Dhaka Wasa circular, the new prices will be effective from April 1.

Under the new tariff ceiling, residential consumers will pay Tk14.46 for each unit (1,000 litres) of water — a Tk2.89 or 24.97% hike from the existing Tk11.57 rate.

On the other hand, the commercial rate has jumped by 8%, or Tk2.96, to Tk40 from Tk37.04 per unit.

The Wasa circular was published in some national dailies on Friday, just a day after the government announced an increase in retail and bulk electricity prices from March.

A press release also said that Wasa decided to raise the water prices following government instruction in order to adjust the production cost in view of the recent hike in gas and electricity prices, and to balance out sales with production and distribution costs.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, a frustrated Jakir Hossain said such back-to-back tariff hikes have become an extra burden on his limited income.

"Surely, the hikes will add to my woes as my living costs will soar," said the blue collar employee of a private company, who lives in Mirpur 11 with his family.

According to Section 22 of the Wasa Act 1996, the state agency can increase water tariff by 5% every year. But any rise over that will have to be cleared by the ministry or department concerned.

After a news report confirmed that Dhaka Wasa was looking to hike the prices, the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) on February 18 had strongly voiced its opinion against the move.

In a statement, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzaman termed the proposal not only unacceptable, but also a torture on consumers.

“The ministry concerned must scrap the proposal and hold a mass hearing on the Wasa law, for a permissible hike. The proposal is contradictory to the 1996 Wasa Act, which allows a maximum 5% tariff hike annually… If cleared, the hike will take a heavy toll on low income groups,” he said.

From September last year, the tariff for household consumers had soared to Tk11.57 per unit from Tk11.02; while the commercial rate jumped from Tk35.28 to Tk37.04.

In July 2018, the prices were increased to Tk11.02 per unit from Tk10.50 for domestic consumers and to Tk35.28 from Tk33.60 for industrial usages.

Also, household water tariff was raised from Tk10 to Tk10.50 per unit in August 2017, and the prices for commercial usage from Tk32 to Tk33.60.

Burden on the public

Meanwhile, the hike in water prices drew flak from various quarters, including the general population of the capital city, most of whom took to social media to vent their frustration.

Development worker Monjur Rashid posted on Facebook on Friday evening: “Who’ll give us the additional money to pay the increased tariffs of water and electricity?”

Reshmi Akter, a housewife living with her family in Moghbazar, also said that the hike in water tariff will add more suffering in their lives.

“Being the homemaker of a middle-income family, I have to manage everything and I can say definitively that the upward trend in living costs, through rising utility bills, puts people like us into deep trouble,” she said.

Consumers Association of Bangladesh Chairman Ghulam Rahman also expressed frustration, saying the price hike of both power and water will weigh heavily on the people.

“Along with the prices of daily essentials, house rent will also shoot up and take a heavy toll on the people with low and lower-middle incomes,” he said.

Ghulam was also critical of the alleged corruption in Wasa and the power sector. “If the irregularities are checked, I believe the government will never have to raise utility prices. Rather, it will be able to reduce the existing power and water tariffs.”

However, while talking to Dhaka Tribune recently, Dhaka Wasa MD Tasqem tried to justify their move, saying those living in the capital city have a much healthier purchase capacity when compared with rural and marginal people.

Since Dhaka is an economic and employment hub, people living here can afford to pay the increased tariffs, he said.

He also said that they wanted to hike the tariffs due to growing expenditure in implementing several projects, aimed at ensuring quality and widened service, by taking long-term loans from different agencies. “We have to pay them back.”

“In doing so, the government is subsidizing us a lot since our expenditure is expanding compared to our income,” Tasqem added. “Neither the government nor us are in favour of subsidies. Hence, we moved to raise the prices.”

He claimed they were trying their best to achieve utmost efficiency and reduce most of the system loss, but “higher production cost” led them to hike the tariffs.

Resentment over poor service

On October 20 last year, Dhaka Wasa MD Tasqem was heavily criticized by the concerned parliamentary standing committee for failing to provide safe drinking water to the citizens, dealing with the waterlogging problem, and addressing allegations of widespread corruption against the state agency’s officials.

The parliamentary watchdog had also asked him to take prompt measures to free Wasa of corruption and ensure proper services.

On April 17 last year, TIB in a report said that 91% consumers boil the water supplied by Wasa to make it potable, and by doing so, they burn gas worth Tk332 crore annually.

The TIB findings also showed that nearly 45% subscribers do not get the desired amount of water, with about another 35% complaining of poor-quality water throughout the year. 

The report added that 62% of connection seekers in Dhaka city also fall prey to corruption in Wasa.

Three days later, the Wasa MD had publicly challenged the report, saying TIB’s findings were unfounded.

At that time, Tasqem said Wasa’s water was “100% pure,” but reluctantly admitted that sometimes water does get boiled at his house for drinking.

Right away, his comments drew massive criticisms from different quarters, even leading protesters from the city’s Jurain area to go to Wasa Bhaban on April 23 and urging him to drink lemonade made with water supplied in their locality.

Tasqem did not respond to their call.