It is a piece of welcome news that the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) board has declined to approve the proposal to increase the water tariff by 5.0 per cent. Millions of consumers would thank the board for doing so.
Usually, the board goes with the proposals tabled by the WASA officials on water tariff. This time it has been an exception.
Yet the proposal might be floated again in the near future. Both the chairman and the managing directors of the state agency have told the media about such a possibility.
'The decision to put on hold the tariff hike proposal is a temporary one', they said separately.
The sympathy they have shown to the consumers through the deferment of the proposal is not a genuine one. At least, their past actions on water tariff would support such a notion.
For more than one and a half decades, the DWASA has been hiking the water tariff almost every year at a rate of 5.0 per cent. The section 22 of the DWASA Act 1996 empowers the Authority to hike at such a rate in consultation with the government. However, this important state utility agency has increased water rates beyond that rate on a number of occasions. The rates of increase were too high--- between 25 -35 per cent.
There have been protests from the consumers and other rights bodies against such endless hikes. Yet the process has been going on no matter how strong the public resentment is.
It has been observed time and again that the DWASA in particular is oblivious of the interests of the poor consumers. Other state utility service providers do also increase their rates, but they have not been as harsh as the DWASA is.
The DWASA management has a patent argument: the hike is necessary because of the inflation and to narrow the gap between the cost of production and the water tariff.
While taking decision on the hike in water rates, this entity is found reluctant to take into cognizance the paying capacity of the vast majority of the consumers. It has been equally non-responsive to the plight of the consumers who suffer from water shortages in various parts of the Dhaka city. During the peak summer days, residents of many areas are seen making long queues to get a pitcher of safe drinking water. The quality of piped water served in many areas is also in question.
The state agencies responsible for making available power and gas are not allowed to increase their tariffs at will. They have to submit proposals to the relevant ministry first. Once approved, the same are sent to the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) which arranges public hearings on the proposals. Various stakeholders, rights organisations and consumers' bodies attend these hearings. In most cases, the original proposals are modified to reduce the adverse impact of the hike in power and gas prices on the consumers of various types.
The government should also create an appropriate body that could review the water tariff proposals keeping in view the interests of the general consumers.