This write-up is perhaps inspired by the many letters to the editor by different persons published in different local newspapers wherein they chose to spoke out and make public their plight and opinion – a plight not unique to one or two people who chose to speak out but to many people dependant on public water supply maintained by Government Department. While 99.9% of the population chose to remain mute spectators, following the idea/ideology of the 3 (three) monkeys, only a few dare to speak out against the faulty system. People who speak out know that they do so not to spread hatred and anger but for the system to be corrected. Just because someone complains regularly/occasionally doesn’t mean that they’re a complain box/maniac. Complainants complain because they see something wrong in the system and, with a good intention, feels that it should be corrected. However it is up to the person/Department/authority concerned whether to accept the complain as a feedback, an advice, a suggestion, a threat or simply junk. Many a times complains are not given due importance because they are taken as a threat by the authority concerned – a threat to their ego, a threat to the very reason that they occupy the rotating chair. Hence problems remains unsolved and “it’s business as usual”.
Electric power supply is a metered commodity, meaning a consumer pays as much as they consume (except the factories in Byrnihat and elsewhere which I heard that never pay their electric bills, hence MeECL’s unpaid dues). So a household/business establishment that uses more electricity at the end of the month pays more money to the Electric Corporation, while those who consumed less power ends up paying lesser bills to the Electric Corporation. This is called equality (as understood by me). Because people have to pay according to their usage so they try to economise according to their pockets or bank accounts. Although yes from time to time the Electric Power Distribution Corporation does complain of power theft which, of course, is understood to be an unavoidable circumstance considering the huge population of the state and low responsibility factor of its citizens. I do not know whether the system of metering of electric power supply was started since day one when the said commodity was distributed to the general public or decided later to generate revenue. But I do agree that the practice of metering electric power supply is a good practice as per reasons.
However, when it comes to water supply I don’t understand why the same good practise of metering is not followed. What is the reason? Is it perhaps no one is willing to initiate? Is it perhaps the officials concerned never had a light bulb moment even after 46 years of statehood? Is it because the state cabinet are mostly filled with people who are ignorant, or illiterate or uneducated perhaps? What would be the reason? What could be the reason? If we would talk about this in any kind of social gathering the general argument would be – “If water supply is metered the poor would suffer”. But other than this one line statement there is no other explanation. In the present arrangement a poor household and a rich household pays the same amount of money to the concerned authority supplying water irrespective of the usage/ quantity of water consumed, number of members in the family. But a household with more members would consume more water (please read ‘household members’ as humans, dogs, cats and vehicles, as all these consume water in their respective manner & quantity). That is basic common sense. Yet in the present arrangement all consumers are entitled to equal amount of water supply, because it is not metered. So the other option is to buy from private suppliers/tankers or pay/bribe the plumber. And the second option is better and cheaper/more affordable. Now see, it is a known fact that rich people will have bigger houses, so they will need more water to clean the house. And rearing costly dogs/cats (whom they gave bath to regularly) have become a lifestyle and status symbol. And they will also have vehicles – big ones – and not just one but as many as possible, because they are rich and they can afford to buy 2(two) or 3(three) more. And of course just like they take good care of themselves they would also compliment it with clean shining cars which would again consume huge quantity of water daily. Compare this to a poor household of, say, a daily wage labourer – they don’t even take bath daily, at the most twice or thrice a week. And we all know that cooking and cleaning utensils does not consume much water. The highest amount of water is taken up by washing clothes, bathing (humans, animals and vehicles alike). In areas where there are usable springs and/or where the local Dorbar still allows, you can still find a lot of people going to these springs for washing clothes and taking bath in order to save water at home. They leave home with one bar of soap for washing clothes, another bar of soap for taking bath and a sachet of shampoo and they are ready for their weekly or bi-weekly bath. Would any member of a rich family do that? Will you find any of them taking bath in the springs? So who actually is the sufferer here if and when water supply is metered? See don’t get me all wrong here, I have no problem with rich people or their lifestyle. It’s great to see people doing well/being well off. In fact I wish that everyone should be rich. Each and every individual on planet earth should be rich. Wouldn’t that be great? My only argument is that when there is so much talk about equality on all levels why should water supply – a basic human need – be left far behind. Let people who use it less, pay less and people who use it more, pay more (barring the political class of course) just like electricity, food, clothes and what not.
If water supply is meter regulated the poor will not suffer. They are already used to using less of it or in the right quantity. The well-to-do ones are actually the ones who will start cribbing and complaining by giving lame excuses and statements like “the poor shall suffer” because then they will have to pay more than usual, pay the actual, pay according to the usage.
Even in television it has been some years now that the pay-per-view was introduced, and TV is not a do or die consumable, yet people readily accepted the new arrangement. Metering water supply is not a new idea or a bad idea considering the fact that a lot of people in different localities are buying water from private suppliers/tankers at a price much higher than what the Government would ever charge even if it does meter control the public water supply. People who buy water from private tankers would know how judiciously they have to use that water. It is also perhaps due to the fact that water supply is not metered that some localities and some families have abundant water supply while some suffer year round, even though at the end of the day they all pay the same amount of money to the authority concerned. Perhaps if water supply is metered it will address this issue of water scarcity in selected pockets of Shillong city since people will learn to use water not in excess of what is needed, but in the right quantity only. They will learn to shut off that tap just like they switched off the lights. Perhaps then there will be no more overflowing tanks in one household while another neighbour is all dried up. Perhaps the plumber will sin less as there will be limited option to bribe them. Or perhaps simply it is time the “winds of change” sweep PHE Department too and fast, for in this case, I believe, the poor shall not suffer.