DMK Takes U-Turn on Suez Water Supply Project in Coimbatore, Feasibility of Project Questioned
The agreement to hand over drinking water distribution in the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC) to Suez Projects Private Limited (SPPL) or the Suez Group was signed during the regime of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 2018.
The agreement was signed for a period of 26 years from 2018, during which the SPPL would be responsible for optimisation, rehabilitation and operation of the entire water distribution system, including reservoirs, water network, house connections, water meters, valves.
The decision was vehemently opposed by the then principal opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other major political parties. But, within months after assuming power, the DMK has changed its stance and announced that the agreement with the Suez group would not be scrapped. The project has been running, and 13% of the works have been completed, said the minister for municipal administration in the policy statement.
SECOND LARGEST CITY IN THE STATE
Coimbatore, often referred to as the Manchester of the South, is the second-largest city in Tamil Nadu and is one of the four cities in Tamil Nadu categorised as a Million Plus City by the 15th Central Finance Commission. The city is fast growing with rapid industrialisation and has a population of around 10.5 lakhs as per the 2011 Census.
The district is rich in water resources with tributaries of river Cauvery (Bhavani, Amaravathi and Noyyal serving most parts of the district), with the southern parts being served by the tributaries of Ponnani river (Palar, Aliyar and Uppar), and the south-western part has the Sholaiyar and Parambikulam tributaries of the Periyar river.
The CCMC is catered by Siruvani and Pilloor schemes for drinking water supply. The website of the CCMC informs that the entire supply of water from Siruvani is virtue of gravity while pumping is being done in the Pilloor scheme.
The initial plan to establish a system to provide 24x7 drinking water supply to the households was conceived in 2008, followed by the approval of the union government in 2013 and the state government initiating the public-private partnership (PPP) in 2014.
The letter of acceptance was given to the Suez group in 2017, and the agreement was signed in 2018. The project is expected to be completed in 2023, and the Union government shares the funding for construction (Rs 166.99 crore), state government (Rs 101.21 crore) and the concessionaire (Rs 129.34 crore). The project's total cost is 400 million euros (Rs 2,400 crore).
PROTESTS AGAINST THE PROJECT
The DMK had held protests against the agreement between the CCMC and Suez demanded that any local firms be roped in to execute the project group. The party wanted the AIADMK government to scrap the contract and
During a protest in January 2020, N Karthick, a DMK MLA from Singanallur within the corporation limits, said, "People have no clarity regarding the price hike or the implementation of the Suez project", reported Simplicity.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), an ally of the DMK however, continues to demand free and clean drinking water for the residents of the corporation.
G Ramakrishnan, a polit bureau member of the party, has said that the contract with the French multinational company will lead only to commercialising drinking water.
PR Natarajan, the CPI(M) MP from Coimbatore, has insisted the DMK government scrap the agreement with Suez as promised before the assembly elections. “The distribution of water must be done by the government bodies and not by any multinational companies”, he said.
‘CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT AND DILUTION’
Article 21 of the Constitution of India ensures Right to Life for citizens. As per the observation of the Supreme Court, this includes the right to shelter, which in turn has adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation and other civic amenities.
Water being included as entry 17 in the State list as per the Constitution, the state governments are responsible for distributing drinking water to the citizens, and the 73rd and 74th amendments also make local bodies accountable for the same.
Moreover, the responsibility of ensuring water supply in the urban areas are vested with the department of urban development in the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The responsibility has been diluted with the multiplicity of implementing agencies since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed office in 2014.
The four major programmes introduced by the BJP-led government - Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart City Project, Swachh Bharat Mission and Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) - have led only to dilution of responsibilities.
‘HOW FEASIBLE IS THE AGREEMENT’
In the agreement signed with the SPPL, the CCMC states that it is desirous of upgrading, operating and maintaining the existing water supply system in the corporation into a 24x7 water supply system on a build, transfer and operate (BTO) basis.
The city now supplies around 125-150 million litres per day (mld) at 72 litres per capita per day (lpcd), though the requirement for CCMC and Palladam is 250-270 mld. There is an existing shortage of around 100 mld in the CCMC itself.
Considering the population increase to 24.87 lakhs in 2035 and 32.79 lakhs by 2050, the water supply is expected to be 429.75 mld in 2035 and 565.55 mld in 2050.
The final report titled, Evaluation of Water Services Public-Private Partnership Options for Mid-sized Cities in India published by David Ehrhardt, Riddhima Gandhi, Josses Mugabi and William Kingdom in 2015 found that the CCMC had a cost recovery rate of 172% for drinking water supply. The report also claims that the PPP would not be viable in mid-sized cities.
In a publication by Manthan Adhyayan Kendra titled ‘Water: Private Limited’, the list of failed projects carried out by companies like Suez and Vieola across the globe are listed, citing the background of the reasons.
The DMK government has claimed that 13% of the works have been completed, so the project cannot be scrapped. The policy statement of the municipal administration and water supply management, while referring to the drinking water projects in Coimbatore, categorically left out the organisation entrusted with supplying drinking water round the clock.
Chief Minister MK Stalin has not commented on the agreement with Suez after assuming power.
Given the limited source of drinking water, the ambitious aim of providing drinking water of 135 lpcd per hour continuously for 24 hours (i.e. 3240 litres per day) or 135 lpcd of water per minute for 1440 minutes in a day seems to be far from achievable. The DMK needs to rethink the project, looking into the failed and scrapped projects across the country and the world.
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