Government “reforms” mean privatisation of public services
The employees of Delhi Jal Board (DJB) are also protesting the privatisation of water supply alongside the residents of Delhi. The Delhi government has announced an annual increase of 10% in water tariff so as to enable the private companies to increase their profit. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL) reporters interviewed the activists of the Delhi Jal Board Union who are opposing the privatisation of water supply. We are presenting their views here:
Interview of Com. Taraspal Tomar, President of DJB Employees Union
MEL: Why do you oppose the privatisation of the DJB?
Com. Taraspal Tomar (CTT): We are opposing the privatisation of DJB because it is contrary to the goal of providing water at affordable prices to all. Privatisation is like poison to the residents of Delhi. Whichever is the private party the DJB is handing over their work to, its primary objective is not to provide drinking water to all our citizens, but to maximise its profit.
Mel: Which plants have been privatised so far?
CTT: The Bhagirathi Water Treatment Plant in Shahdara has been completely handed over to Larsen and Toubro (L&T). The Nangloi and Chandravel plants are ready for takeover. It is not so clear as to who they are being handed over to.
Directives have already been issued for the water distribution centres at Malaviya Nagar, Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar to be handed over to private companies. Their logic is that this is an experiment to see if it works; and if it does, then other centres will also be handed over to private companies. The government is trying to see if the maintenance function can also be handed over to private hands. These trials are being carried out in those sectors where there is huge scope for profits.
MEL: What is the interest of the World Bank in DJB?
CTT: The WB loan to DJB is premised on a fundamental reform of DJB – i.e., multinational companies must take over the running of the water supply and management. The borrower cannot decide the kind of reforms that is required; it will simply have to implement reforms as per the World Bank’s advice.
MEL: After the privatisation of electric supply, the privatisation of water supply is a very big attack on the people. What is your opinion on this?
CTT: You cannot see the Delhi Electricity Board and Delhi Jal Board in the same way. Electricity is produced by human beings and humanity can survive without electricity. Water, on the other hand, is nature’s gift to us, without which humanity cannot live.
People are really suffering because of the privatisation of Delhi Electricity Board. The meters run fast. Even if there is a spark in the meter, the company takes away the meter. Then they claim that meter has been tempered with and slap a fine of Rs. 25,000/-.
With the privatisation of the Jal Board, it will become impossible for the poor, workers and ordinary people to live in the city.
MEL: Some Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) have called the privatisation of water as the right step. What do you say?
CTT: Some RWAs, which are under the control of major political parties have said that they are happy with privatisation of water. But we say that Delhi is home to 170 lakh people and a survey should be conducted among all the residents.
MEL: How much property belongs to the Jal Board in the whole of Delhi?
CTT: The Jal Board has 6,000 acres of land. The companies are eyeing this huge land. Government is trying to sell it at throwaway prices. For example, these scoundrels have valued the Jhandewalan land at only Rs. 80 lakhs, whereas it is worth hundreds of crores of Rupees. The Jal Board has land within and outside the city. There is a lot of land in Buradi, which has been encroached on by the Nirankari Baba ashram. There is land and real estate in Lajpat Nagar, Greater Kailash, Nangloi and Najafgarh.
MEL: Is there new recruitment in the Jal Board?
CTT: There are no recruitments since 1997. There were 32,000 officials and employees in 1997. By 2012, these have reduced to 18,000. Every month there are 40-42 employees that retire. Some have died while on duty. In 1998 for every 1000 consumers, the Jal Board had 28.44 employees. By 2010, this figure has reduced to 13.05. With a lot of struggle by the union, recently the dependents of 900 employees who died while in service have been recruited but this does not cover the dependants of all such employees.
MEL: The government claims that the Jal Board is running at a loss!
CTT: This cannot be proven by anyone. The main reason for the loss is that whenever the board meeting takes place, the lunch alone costs Rs. six to seven lakhs.. Apart from this any official that is transferred spends lakhs of Rupees from the Jal Board account to give his office a new look.
Officials keep on taking foreign tours on the pretext that they are studying the water supply systems in other countries to develop the Jal Board. None of the officials who have visited abroad have made any plans for the development of the Jal Board. However, they have certainly made plans to ensure the profits of private companies.
MEL: How far is the allegation by the government true about the non-performance of the employees?
CTT: The policy of the government and the command officers recruited by the government determine whether the Jal Board is fulfilling its stated objectives. All employees work under the direction of the officers. Employees work hard according to their capacity. Our engineers are very capable and good.
For example, when our engineer installs a line, it lasts for 50 years, whereas the lines installed by the private companies last only 5 years. You, yourself, can see proof of this.
Why was the advice of our engineers, who have appropriate qualification and years of experience, not taken in reforming the Jal Board,? Do any of the private companies have experience greater than what the Delhi Jal Board employees have? But no, they will take the advice from these private companies only and pay them crores of Rupees for that.
For appointing employees on contract, the command officers take bribes. Even when we have all the means and facilities, all tasks are being done on contract; those who are awarded the contact pay these officers a hefty commission.
MEL: Did you see the privatisation of the Jal Board as a continuation of the policy of liberalisation and privatisation, initiated in 1990 when Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister?
CTT: Yes, these are moves to speed up the process of bringing multinational companies into India. They have already sold out the electricity supply and education; if we don’t wake up now, then water supply will also be sold.
MEL: How is our water insecure in the hands of these companies?
CTT: There is no guarantee that private companies will protect our health. The goal of the private companies is, above all, increasing their profits.
MEL: What has been the effect of privatisation on the conditions of the employees?
CTT: In the 1963 Act, it is written that minimum age for employment is 18 years, and that safety standards will be followed in the plants. However, in the agreement with L&T, none of these are being followed. For example, to maximize their profit, the company has reduced the number of foremen and supervisors. The company is getting the work of 65 employees done by only 10 employees. Those engineers who spoke against this state of affairs have been made to go on leave.
L&T is using contract workers who are underage, illiterate and without experience. They are being used to clean filter houses, to monitor raw water storage, etc. The quality of water is not being maintained. You can get it checked by any lab. Lot of chemicals are being added which presents greater risks of kidney and heart failure. When the personnel of the laboratory complained about the unsatisfactory quality of the water, then the administration shut that laboratory and shifted it to Geetha colony. This is a black listed company. When the JE or AE raise these issues with the company, then they tell us that we should mind our own business as this is the way this company is going to be operated.
MEL: Some people say that the Delhi Jal Board should not be sold to the foreign companies but to Indian companies. What is your opinion?
CTT: Privatisation is privatisation! Whether it is Indian capitalists or foreign, both will exploit us. For example, a snake is a snake, whether it is big or small, both can be dangerous. The private companies are interested in exploiting the workers to make their profit. When they pay a worker Rs. 100, they extract work worth Rs.1000.
MEL: In this process of privatisation, is the government only privatising the plants or even the supply of water?
CTT: I want to tell you that from 1st May 2012, the government has stationed officers from the Tata company in our revenue department. They are being given Rs.11 for every Rs. 100 collected. By giving commission to a private company, the consumers are being forced to install meters.
The Jal Board has all the facilities and human resources available for treating the raw water to make it potable. We have workshops for repairing meters and electric motors. Now these are being contracted out to foreign and Indian private companies. For example, the winding workshop in Chandravel plant has been shut down because the repairing work is being done outside now.
MEL: Is the land of the Jal Board also being handed out to the companies?
CTT: The government has not revealed all its cards yet.n
Interview with Com Virendra Gaur, General Secretary, Municipal Corporation Lal Jhanda Union
MEL: Why are you opposing the privatisation of Delhi Jal Board?
Com. Virendra Gaur: Privatisation will lead to insecurity of livelihood for the employees. More and more of them will be employed on contract. Two employees will be forced to do the work of 10.
We are opposed to the handing over of this institution, which has been built with public funds, to domestic and foreign companies. We are opposed to the government abdicating its responsibility of making water available to the people and shifting this basic responsibility into private hands.
MEL: Which are the plants that have already been transferred to private hands so far?
CVG: The Sonia Vihar water treatment plant has been handed over to one private company called Degramont for 10 years at an annual fee of Rs. 188 crores.
The responsibility of maintaining and operating the Bhagirathi water treatment equipment has been given to Larsen and Toubro. Prior to it being given in private hands, the annual running cost used to be Rs.34.85 crore, which included the cost of purchase of electricity, water to be treated and the salaries of 315 employees. Although L&T did not have any relevant experience in this field, it is demanding Rs. 271 crore from the government as annual running cost. The annual interest on this amount itself amounts to Rs. 27 crores. This plant is only 25 years old. There are currently 60 employees of DJB, whose salaries are paid by the government.
Private companies have been engaged to do work like running booster pump stations, maintaining big pipe lines and operating the emergency water supply.
It is being said that in Vasant Vihar and Malviya Nagar areas, water supply will be round the clock. Government employees' residential areas and densely populated areas are excluded from this. When the availability of water is limited, it is being said that the water supply to other areas will have to be cut to provide round the clock water in a few areas.
Half of the Sewage Treatment plants located in Okhla and Rithala, respectively, have also been handed over to Degramont.
MEL: In this process, is the government privatising only the plants or even the supply?
CVG: Production, distribution and sewerage - all three have been handed over to the private companies.
MEL: What is the World Bank's interest in the Delhi Jal Board?
CVG: The World Bank defends the interest of US imperialists. Through the policy of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation, the so called reforms of the water policy is being carried out throughout the world. This same program is being implemented by the government of our country in the interest of Indian and foreign capitalists.
MEL: After the privatisation of electricity, the privatisation of water is a very big attack on the people. What is your view on this?
CVG: The government had a very definite aim in separating Delhi Jal Board from the municipal corporation. This is what was done to Delhi Electricity Board. On 24 February 1997 Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (DESU) was transformed into Delhi Electricity Board. On 1 July 2002, this was split into five different companies - two companies for electricity generation and three for electricity distribution. The two electricity producing companies were with the government while the three distribution companies have been handed over to capitalists. Continuing along similar steps, the Delhi Water Supply and Sewerage Disposal was separated from the Delhi Municipal Corporation on 6 April 1998 and was transformed into the Delhi Jal Board.
MEL: How much property is owned in all of Delhi by the Jal Board ?
CVG: The World Bank had hired Price Waterhouse eight years ago to conduct a survey of the property held by the Delhi Jal Board. They had assessed the value of Delhi Jal Sadan located in Lajpat Nagar at that time at Rs. 65 crores. The actual price has been estimated to be in 100s of crores.
MEL: Is the Jal Board recruiting new employees?
CVG: Today the population of Delhi is growing at double or treble the rate that prevailed in the 90s while the number of employees have been reduced by the same rate. The number of consumers has increased. The number of colonies has increased. It cannot be said that everything has been automated in the Jal Board so that it does not need any human labour.
MEL: How far are the government's allegations, that the employees do not work, correct?
CVG: The main thing is that the government hands over those enterprises, from which it wants to exit, to special officials who are experts at accomplishing this objective of the government. The enterprise is turned into a loss-making one and the quality of service is made extremely bad so that employees can be blamed for not doing their work. People have to deal with these employees. People are justified in demanding better services. It becomes easy for the government to justify handing over of the whole or a part of the enterprise to private players. The Revenue Department is a prime example of this.