A Fight for Water from Mumbai Slums Settlements PDF Print E-mail

Dignity International’s partner, Yuva ( India) has been working with the Urban Poor for the past 26 years in the State of Maharashtra mostly on urbanisation issues. The fight for equal rights of urban poor communities on land, housing, water and social security has been critical in YUVA interventions apart from mobilising women, children and youth for human right cities.


School girl crossing railway lines for collecting water in Mumbai

This article looks into the issues of drinking water in the state of Maharashtra with a special emphasis on Mumbai. YUVA has been fighting the proposed privatisation of water through pre-paid metres and for equal and adequate water for Mumbai’s poor. The Private – Public Participation Model being propagated by World Bank and Water Corporations took a setback with the Mumbai People questioning this model.

Privatisation of Mumbai Water
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) initiated a pilot project funded by (Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) of the World Bank in administrative ward of – “K-east”. This was done under the guise of improving water distribution and was popularly named “Water Distribution Improvement Project” (WDIP). This pilot project aimed at exploring Public Private Participation (PPP) in water distribution in Mumbai. The proposals include long term and short term management contracts to private companies for water distribution. The final set of proposals also came with the idea of pre paid water meters, which failed in other parts of the world as a solution for water woes in the slums settlements of Mumbai.

Mumbai Municipal Corporation apparently have the best water management system and had pioneered in purification, leakage prevention and distribution network. The civil society groups including YUVA demanded transparency in the pilot study done by International Management Consultant from France, ‘Castalia’. The suggestions during the consultations were on strengthening the public sector and none of these suggestions were taken into account when the final report came which suggested pre-paid metres. The Major section of the people then closed down the consultation as it was fake and was done for making forced consensus on water privatisation.

The civil society groups including the urban poor groups joined together as Mumbai Pani, demanded that water being treated as a public good and to ensure universal and adequate supply of water in city, particularly to urban poor settlements. The campaign led to MCGM launching a city-wide ‘Sujal Mumbai Abhiyan’ which accepted the basic demand for strengthening of water department, The Campaign led to the stoppage of water privatization for the time being.

Campaign for Universal Right to Water
To intensify the struggle for Right to Water, YUVA facilitated the setting up of the Paani Haq Abhiyan into Pani Haq Samittee. YUVA organised a city-level Paani Haq Parishad with like minded partners, in February 2010 wherein Paani Haq Samittee (PHS) was formed at the city level comprising of local activists, CBOs, NGOs and people’s movements. Since then, PHS is deepening its roots in different areas to spearhead the local action for access to water. The PHS is also engaged with MCGM and Urban Development Department of Maharashtra and through these processes YUVA and PHS have been able to politicise the issue of denial of access to water to non-notified communities.

Activists demanding regular water connections and
protesting against pre-paid water metres in Mumbai

Based on our above mentioned experiences, we have identified some major issues in urban water sector in the context of right to water:

Denial of access to water to slums based on a cut-off date
The Maharashtra state government and its Urban Local Bodies have set 1st January 1995 as a cut-off date for the urban poor households to provide basic services. This means that any one who have come to a slum after 1995 will not be given water by the public authorities. This denial has lead to people having to spend a large amount of time in the collection of water apart from encouraging water mafias in the slums. According to a statement by the Chief Minister, there are about 3 million people who do not have access to legal water in Mumbai alone. The denial of water has also added to the burden of Women and children which according to study done by YUVA carry the responsibility of collecting water. Only 12 percent of men collect water and just 9 percent assist women in water collection. In non notified communities 4 percent of children are solely responsible for collection of water this having a negative impact on education. Many of the children drop out of school or report late due to time spend for collecting water.

Unequal water distribution between slums and non-slums
Mumbai is known for its unequal distribution of land, housing, and water. In Mumbai 72 percent population resides in suburbs and gets only 65 percent water of total supply, while 28 percent of city’s popu lat ion residing in the island city gets 35 percent of the water (MCGM’s water department’s White Paper 2009). MCGM’s water By-Laws set an institutional discrimination of water requirement of 45 lpcd and 180 lpcd for slum and building residents respectively. According to a study done by YUVA in December 2009, 24 percent people in slums get as low as 18 lpcd.

Privatisation & Commodification of Water
The Water sector in India is the most lucrative as well as promising sector for public private partnerships (PPP) hence public water supply institution fall prey to privatization as it happened in Nagpur.

Other basic issues related to water governance

  • The rural water is channelised to meet the ever increasing needs of urban settlement. This leaves rural settlement high and dry causing enormous dissatisfaction among residents of these areas.


  • State & Urban Local governments lack the interest to preserve and develop the urban local water sources.


  • Deliberate deterioration of efficiency of public institutions by state & local government

Ecological Issues
Massive untreated Industrial discharge and sewages are endangering our finite water sources up to the extent of non-recuperation, causing colossal harm to the ecological system and making urban water supply more dependent on external sources.


Mumbai Water Rights Conference, 16 February 2010

YUVA’s advocacy efforts in State Water Policy
Maharashtra is the first state to prepare and implement state water policy in 2003 on the basis of which it prepared India’s first water regulatory authority named Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) in 2007. MWRRA was working to prepare a tariff structure for bulk water users, for which it organized series of consultations, including regional ones.

Various civil society organisations and trade unions came together at the Maharashtra state level to debate the pros and cons of proposed tariff structures of MWRRA. YUVA (urban) brought in urban water issues into this discourse. To facilitate maximum participation in the consultations by MWRRA, YUVA (urban) took the responsibility of organising participation from Nagpur (Vidharbha Consultations) and Mumbai (Kokan Consultations). The issues we identified with the Maharasthra state water policy and MWRRA are as follow:

Maharashtra State Water Policy

  • Priority of water usages: Maharashtra State water Policy has placed irrigational water usages below Industrial water usages in the priority. This is causing havoc in the field because water allocated for irrigation is being transferred to Industries to meet their ever increasing demands. This clause is adversely affecting the livelihood of the farmers.


  • Drinking water: Though policy put the drinking water usage at the first priority, it is not recognising, defining and ensuring drinking water for all. Policy is also silent on instrumental measures to ensure drinking water for all. Consequently Municipal Corporations are getting water according to their population but they distribute water discriminately and exclude marginalised on different grounds like cut off date, slums etc.

Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority (MWRRA):

  • The agenda of setting tariffs: MWRRA is setting water usage tariff on the principal of recovering operation and maintenance expenditure from the bulk user which includes small farmers and water user groups.


  • Two children’s criteria: MWRRA introduced telescopic tariff structure in which a farmer having more than two children will have to pay higher rates of water than normal rate. This means using water tariff structures as an instrument of population control.

Apart from the above specific interventions in Mumbai, Nagpur and the state level, we took our issues to various national and international forums, networks and discourses like World Social Forum- Nairobi-2005, People’s World Water Forum-Istanbul- 2009, represented case study in Independent People’s Tribunal on World Bank Group in India, Delhi, 2007.

Source: Water Rights Team, Yuva Urban

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