The Water Mafia

The Water Mafias

Author: Rahul Marka, ALC, Kakatiya University, Telangana.


Water is a unique substance. It is one of the few materials on the Earth that exists naturally as a solid, liquid or gas. It is not possible for life on earth to exist without water. Scientists estimate that there are over one billion cubic kilometres of water on this earth, which covers nearly three fourth of the earth’s surface. Though this seems an inordinately huge amount, in actual fact, less than one percent is fresh and usable and is found in lakes, ponds, rivers and groundwater. Of the remaining, ninety seven percent is found in oceans and two percent is locked up in glaciers and ice-caps. We find funny to see the film scenes where women who gather near the municipal taps fight to fill their pots first. We find it so funny but in reality it is a saddest to the sad issue, cause mainly because of Water Mafia.

Water mafias?

Water mafia simply means Aquifers being exploited to the point of exhaustion reflecting a larger groundwater crisis. In broad sense the ‘water mafia’ politics refers to the way allegations of corruption and complicity with the water mafia are made between local rivals for political advantage. At the same time, the social hydrology of informal groundwater use, as a combination of natural and social elements, extends beyond the state and social relations, and is difficult for any actor to sustainably capture and control. Tracing the links between infrastructure, informality and politics in this setting offers a fresh perspective on the socio-technical mediations between humans and water, urbanisation and resource governance as well as the concepts of informality, infrastructure and politics.

Spread of water mafias in India:

An illegal network of water traffickers is taking advantage of the shortcomings of the government supply system in the most impoverished neighborhoods of India to establish a black market. The criminals have been selling the precious commodity at steep prices during a scorching summer that has seen temperatures climb up to 50º C (122 F) in some places.

“The water mafia does not allow the (water supply) process to be competed,” Dinesh Yadav, a member of the Delhi Jal Board – the public agency responsible for supplying water to the more than 16-million residents of New Delhi – told EFE.

In areas such as Sangam Vihar – a neighborhood in the south of New Delhi – residents depend on private water tankers to fulfill their needs, with the operators charging between 20-50 rupees ($0.3-$0.7) per bucket.

Things are not so different in the rest of the country, which is facing one of the biggest water crises in its history: around 75 percent of all households lack access to drinking water on their premises, while 84 percent of rural households do not have access to piped water supply.

Conditions that help water mafias

. Around 600 million people – nearly half of the Indian population – face extreme water shortage across India, the country ranked third from the bottom in water quality worldwide. Around 70 percent of its water resources have been found to be polluted. Thus, thousands of neighborhoods across the country face a shortage of water and depend on tankers that arrive in the areas to fulfill a basic need. This is where the mafias step in, charging unfair prices.

The massive population boom in India, where the number of inhabitants has more than doubled in the last 50 years and reached around 1.3 billion, has also contributed to the rise of the black market in areas which do not have access to supply or pipelines connecting them to a water source, Suresh Chandra Rai, a professor of geography in the Delhi University, told EFE.

Under valued water resource: Water supply for various sectors – domestic, agriculture and industrial – is subsidized by most governments. The subsidies are unrealistic and the pricing of bulk and retail water is nowhere near the long-term marginal cost. Water resource is highly undervalued and underpriced, used without discrimination. The current water usage patterns are unsustainable.

Allocation between various sectors: In the face of widening gap between demand and supply in terms of both quality and quantity, there is intense competition between sectors looking for low quality water (agriculture) and low volumes of high quality water (domestic consumption). Disputes over limited resources will continue between agricultural, industrial and domestic users unless suitable prioritization measures are taken.

Degraded environment: The challenge of sustainable water resources is to efficiently maintain sufficient supply and good quality of water over time and space in order to sustain human activities without degrading the environment. Over exploitation of ground water aquifers and pollution caused by agricultural chemicals decline the quality of water.

Disparities in distribution of resources: Disparities in distribution of water pose a serious problem in areas within under developed and developing countries. Insufficient infrastructure in these regions can intensify the inequalities causing greater scarcity. In the developing world two-thirds of the population lack safe drinking water supplies and environmental sanitation adequate for life support and public health.

Global climate change: Higher temperatures and decreased precipitation lead to decreased water supplies and increased water demands. Climate change could impact the hydrological cycle and water management systems.

Inadequate policies: Decision and policy making are often inadequate. Policies are politically motivated and cater to populist sentiments, lacking consideration of long term consequences and holistic approach.

Major health and environmental problems: Public health and environmental quality are threatened because of degraded water sources. Water borne diseases cause death of millions of people each year and prevent millions more from living healthy lives. Pollution affects water quality and also diminishes the amount of usable water available. As water becomes scarce, sanitation, irrigation and life support functions essential to human survival and public health are compromised.

Lack of databases: Adequate information flows are not available because the bodies administering the water resources seldom have the financial resources necessary for undertaking the exercise of collection and analysis of a large amount of data.

Measures to curb water mafias

Proper pricing: The pricing of this valuable resource must be realistic and should take into account long term marginal costs. At the same time people who cannot afford the high tariffs should be kept in mind while pricing. All water related services like sanitation and irrigation drainage should be progressively financed.

Incentives for effective management: Incentives should be given to the industries in the form of reduced taxes for treating effluents and improving water quality. At the same time heavy polluters should be made to pay heavy taxes. Pollution charges send economic signals to users, encouraging wastewater treatment and reuse.

Adequate infrastructure: The distribution of water resources is not uniform geographically. Adequate infrastructure is necessary to connect the supply source to distribution points. The investments made in water related infrastructure investments should be encouraged through tax benefits.

Haring arrangements: Open, transparent and continuous process of consultation and participation is essential if natural water resources are to be managed in an equitable and sustainable fashion. The role of central and state governments as providers of technical support and policy makers should be supported by local (district) action as mobilizers or promoters of community based management to yield positive results in terms of income generation and environmental protection.

National Water Policy

A comprehensive policy framework is needed to ensure an integrated approach to water resource development, with rational and equitable allocation of resources, and giving priority to the poor and unserved.. A national water sector strategy should state the government’s objectives and the methods to be employed to achieve them..

Creation of databases: A complete database, which gives a true picture of availability and consumption patterns of water, is immensely useful in determining and forecasting the levels of scarcity or abundance. It can create opportunities for trading and productivity gains through more efficient use.

Technological innovations: New technologies should be developed for economically viable wastewater treatment. Adequate funding should be provided for this purpose by the government.

Artificial lakes: Artificial lakes, capable of supporting ecosystems, should be created. In low-lying areas, rain water should be collected to create artificial lakes instead of dumping garbage. Existing lakes should be frequently desalted and cleaned. Water plants should not be allowed to grow on the surface of water.

Information System: Developed information system is the principal necessity in the planning of water resources. Apart from availability of water and data of its actual use, this system should be able to indicate the availability of water for different purposes in future by way of credible and broader projections. Present information and data network including data of processing capabilities should be improved to make it broader, modern and effective. Emphasis should be given for greater use of Remote Sensing technique. It should be made mandatory for users and regulatory departments to maintain all necessary data for compilation of storage of surface and ground water.

Project Planning: The scope of water resource planning shall be multipurpose and it shall be essential to have the provision for drinking water and development of hydroelectricity. For enhancement of fisheries production integrated development projects shall be taken up.

Maintenance and Modernization: A time bound upkeep of the dams and canal systems should be carried out and time-to-time programmes for their rehabilitation should be undertaken. It is an immediate need to reconstruct and rehabilitate the vast irrigation network of the state for future requirements. These canal systems need modernization and enhancement in their efficiencies..

Ground Water Development: While planning projects, attention should be given for development and conjunctive use of surface and ground water, and it should be made part of the project. Availability of ground water potential should be assessed after every ten years compulsorily and exploitation of ground water should be controlled on the scientific basis. The ground water should be utilized only to the extent, which can be recharged. For recharging the ground water methods of construction of minor irrigation tanks/percolation tanks should be adopted.

Drinking Water and Quality Control: The facility of sufficient drinking water shall be extended to the entire urban and rural population. The quality of the surface water and ground water shall be tested on regular basis by concerned departments. It should be made mandatory to treat the industrial and urban waste to the required standards before these are allowed to flow in a stream. The necessary laws should be formulated for protecting the water resources from unauthorized encroachment and also for maintaining the standard quality of water.

Irrigation and Land Management: In water resources planning, amongst the available options/alternatives, optimum cost benefit alternative shall be selected. The policies of land use and its leveling shall be co-related with the policy of water use. Irrigation potential shall be utilized to the maximum, so that the gap between irrigation potential and actual Irrigation can be reduced. The provision shall be made to provide irrigation on priority basis in the fields of marginal and small farmers. To promote drip and sprinkle irrigation there is a need to set up model farms in the command areas of every canal with the help of Agriculture Department.

Rationalization of Water Rates: Water rates should be such which conveys the beneficiary the scares value of water, its importance and motivates them for the economical use of water. Water rates necessarily shall be such that the project shall be self-supported. For the use of water for private purposes, rates shall be determined in such a manner so that the water can be used strictly in accordance to the prescribed priorities laid down in the policy.

Participation in Water Management: To improve water planning, avoid disparity in water distribution and status of available services rendered to farmers, participation of beneficiary groups in operation and maintenance shall be ensured.

Scarcity Area Management: In drought prone areas, to reduce the problem  related to drought, measures like water harvesting, soil humidity protection, works related to increase the ground water table and transfer of water from area having surplus water to scarce water area etc shall be adopted. Development of grazing fields, afforestation and similar other works shall be encouraged. Priorities shall be given to the scarcity areas in the planning of water resources development and a special water management system shall be developed for economical use of water in these areas.

Science and Technology: It is necessary that multifaceted exposure and avenues be provided to the technical knowledge for efficient and appropriate water resources management.

Training: There shall be inclusion of regional planning for information system, designing of project, construction, operation and efficient water distribution system for providing standarized training. Farmers shall also be included with personnel of all levels involved in the water resources management for training. The prime object of the training shall be to achieve maximum production from per unit use of water.


Despite well-intentioned policy documents, providing safe drinking water to citizens remains a problem. for both India and South Africa. However, the usual call for ‘policy makers’ to listen and draft new policies, is not very effective. There is a need for a thorough re-examination of existing procedures and norms of government and NGO functioning, following a clear understanding of the linkages, roles and responsibilities of the various institutions engaged in providing water supply services, especially to rural communities.

Such a re-examination is best carried out in a facilitated multi-stakeholder setting, with a clear mandate to modify procedures and institute mechanisms that improve water supply services to the level required by the Constitution. The only way to resolve the crisis and ending the mafia’s hold over people was to adopt rainwater harvesting technologies in both big and small towns apart from the government making an action-plan to check deforestation. 

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