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Drinking water for all in five years: T.M. Jacob

G.K. Nair

`The State Budget was prepared by about 70 officials during the month-long strike by Government employees, as against 700 who used to do this job in the past. This clearly indicates the working pattern.'

KOCHI, March 19

THE Kerala Government is to make available drinking water to all in the State by the year 2007 and to achieve this objective, various schemes are in the pipeline.

The State Irrigation and Water Supply Minister, Mr T.M. Jacob, said that as a first step towards this direction, over 300 ongoing schemes in different stages execution would be completed one-by-one in the coming months.

Besides, various schemes such as the one to augment water supply to three cities - Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode - have already been initiated. The project is proposed to be implemented for the cities at an estimated cost of Rs 300 to Rs 400 crore under BOT scheme.

The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), which had called global tenders, shortlisted four companies and from them two - Mahindra and Mahindra and a Malaysian company - have been selected, he said.

The Kerala State Infrastructural development Corporation (Kinfra) has been asked to make a project report to be given to these companies, asking them to submit their financial bids, Mr Jacob said. It is expected to take two years for completion of the project once the work is awarded.

With the completion of this project, Thiruvananthapuram would get drinking water throughout the day while Kochi and Kozhikode eight hours a day.

A World Bank-assisted scheme is being implemented under its rural water supply scheme in the districts of Thrissur, Palakkad, Malapuram and Kozhikode. However, the Government is planning to extend this scheme to the urban areas and for it, preliminary discussions are over with the World Bank authorities, the Minister said.

He said that the Kerala Water Authority would be implementing the Chovara water supply scheme at an estimated cost of Rs 50 crore, for which tender formalities were over. Another scheme for East Kochi with UK Government assistance is also under way.

The idea is to stabilise water supply in the State and all measures are being taken to achieve this objective, the Minister said.

The Government has made a proposal to hand over 1,050 schemes currently held by KWA to the Panchayats. But only 20 Panchayats out of over 1,000 responded positively. "The people want everything to be done by the Government,'' Mr Jacob said.

Meanwhile, KWA presented a proposal to auction these schemes and to give to the highest bidder. However, the Government did not favour this suggestion, he said.

In such a scenario, the Government is bound to seek assistance from other sources such as financial institutions and other agencies and foreign governments, he pointed out.

The return on the investment made in this sector is much less when compared with the money invested. To raise the revenue, it is not necessary to increase the tariff rates. There was a proposal to raise the charges which "I have rejected.''

According to Mr Jacob, if meter-reading is done properly and charges collected on time, the revenue would definitely go up. In fact, there is no permanent mechanism for meter-reading and collection of charges.

As a result, even the local bodies have to pay around Rs 100 crore to the Water Authority, he said. Majority of the water connections is to households followed by commercial consumers.

Proper maintenance of the existing network has to be done promptly. That is not being done regularly for want of funds, Mr Jacob admitted. The entire operation needs to be revamped and regulated, he said.

Steps are being taken to reduce the establishment cost so that the KWA could be run on a `no profit no loss' basis, he added. The department is overstaffed. "There should not be more permanent staff. Much of the operations can be done with temporary hands. The time has come that the work culture has to change here. More wages and less output is the strategy prevailing here.

"The State Budget was prepared by about 70 officials during the month-long strike by Government employees as against 700 who used to do this job in the past,'' Mr Jacob pointed out. This clearly indicates the working pattern, he added.

From April 1, bi-monthly meter-reading would be introduced throughout the State. On an experimental basis, it was done in selected areas in three cities, which has proved a success, Mr Jacob said. Under this programme the consumers could pay the bills through banks.

"Compared to the last fiscal, a good collection is expected during the current financial year,'' Mr Jacob, who would be celebrating his silver jubilee as MLA in April, said.

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