Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday announced that the Delhi government will soon introduce a one-time settlement scheme for pending water bills of around 1.17 million consumers, including around 700,000 consumers whose arrears are likely to be completely waived off .
The scheme is based on the premise that the bills issued to most of these consumers were faulty, largely due to the physical meter readings not being taken during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the bills will be recast on the basis of computerised normal consumption of water.
Kejriwal said that the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), in a meeting on Tuesday, cleared the scheme, and added that it will now be taken up by the state cabinet. The scheme will be operational for three months starting August 1, during which consumers will have the option to either pay the revised arrears, or the water utility will ask for its current bill.
At present, 1.17 million water customers have pending bills, cumulatively amounting to ₹5,737 crore. The Delhi government did not specify how much of this money will be collected according to its estimates. It was not immediately clear how DJB will make up for the losses of revenue, and what the financial implications of the proposed write-off will be.
Speaking at a press conference at the Delhi secretariat, Kejriwal said, “Bills have accumulated due to various reasons. The biggest reason is that physical meter readings could not be taken during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many meter readers filed faulty readings, and people received faulty bills which have not been paid as people believe these are not correct bills.”
The Delhi government in 2013 launched a flagship scheme under which consumers were provided 20 kilolitres (kl) water per month free of cost. Consumers are only charged if the monthly consumption exceeds the 20kl-mark.
According to Kejriwal, of the 1.17 million consumers whose bills are pending, 700,000 consume less than 20kl water a month.
“Around 150,000 consumers fall in the category of 20-30kl, while the remaining are above 30kl consumption,” he said. This, the government said, had been ascertained through computer simulations.
Giving details of the scheme, Kejriwal said that DJB will divide the 1.17 million consumers with pending bills into two categories — the first with two or more “okay meter readings”, and the second group which fails to meet this criterion. In case of two “okay meter readings”, he said, an average of the two will be taken and in case of nil or one meter reading, the average reading will be arrived at by looking at the average consumption patterns of similar households/neighbours in that area.
“Okay meter readings” are those which have been physically taken by meter readers visiting the site, with both the DJB and consumer finding them to be satisfactory.
“In case of three or more readings, we will remove the outlier reading and calculate the average of the rest. For instance, if there are three readings 50, 75 and 200 units… the 200-unit reading will be considered an outlier and discarded. The bill will be calculated based on the average of the rest of the readings,” Kejriwal explained.
Responding to a query on the additional financial load due to the scheme, Kejriwal said, “We are not providing anything additional. These people will fall under the 20KL scheme (once the recalculation system under the scheme is applied) which is already an open offer.”
Delhi government and DJB officials declined to specify the recovery projections and the financial implications of the scheme.
Atul Goyal, who heads Urja (united resident welfare associations joint action), an umbrella organisation of Delhi’s RWAs, said the scheme is welcome but the government must tackle the underlying root cause for faulty bills.
“The meter quality and the meter-reading process needs to be revamped. Many meters are faulty and bills are generated on an average basis. RWAs can be roped in this process,” he said.
Over the last 10 years, DJB has introduced five rebate schemes for the late payment on the surcharges on bills.
A senior DJB official, on condition of anonymity, said the repeated amnesty schemes and waivers discourage the honest bill payers in such cases. “Even while providing the late payment surcharge settlement scheme last year, DJB had said that this is the last opportunity for people to settle their late fee. If we keep opening the cases again and again, it would discourage people to pay bills,” the official said.
The scheme also led to criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Delhi BJP President Virendra Sachdeva said DJB has become a white elephant under the Arvind Kejriwal government.
“On one hand, the water utility is a source of corruption and theft of government revenue, while on the other hand, it is looting and harassing consumers. Over the last five years, the Kejriwal government annually introduced so-called one-time bill settlement schemes for water consumers, but despite that, the number of such consumers has not gone down,” Sachdeva said.
Kejriwal also said his government hopes to provide sufficient water to the city over the next year-and-a-half.
“Two broad steps are being taken — north and east Delhi have very high groundwater levels, which get replenished with the flooding of the Yamuna. We are installing tubewells in these areas. Secondly, we are creating lakes with the help of 590mgd water from sewage treatment plants… The area around these lakes has a high groundwater level, which can be extracted lawfully and be purified with reverse osmosis plants,” the CM said.
The economic survey presented by the Delhi government in March had estimated that the city’s water demand is around 1260mgd, while the supply capacity is up to 995mgd.