Need for change

The government has embarked on a course to regularise the tariff for drinking water and sanitation services, both of which are looked after by the state water utility, the Nepal Water Supply Corporation (NWSC). Discrepancies in the prevailing tariff system have been more than just conspicuous. For example, people have been forced to pay the minimum charge even when water flows not in taps during the dry season. Maintenance and cleaning drives are generally accompanied by abrupt pause in the supply without prior notice on account of which the consumers suffer. The water timing is erratic. These are only a few of many such inconveniences the people face on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the NWSC has been portraying itself as earnestly striving to rectify the faults, but the people have rarely felt the claimed changes. The situation continues to be the same. If the newly formed Drinking Water Tariff Fixation Commission can tackle the aforesaid and other anomalies of the Corporation and indeed bring a change in the delivery of the water utility’s services, the public will eternally be grateful. But reliable services will have to be sooner or later provided to the public.

There is talk of handing water supply to the private sector at some future date. The Commission will then be the regulatory authority to fix tariff for the private sector depending upon the quality and range of services the sector can provide. It also envisages distributing water from different sources and fixing the tariff subject to the specific criteria concerning those endeavours. As an arbitor, the Commission will settle dispute between the service provider and the consumer. Sanitation services, too, will come under its jurisdiction. The proposal seems to have filled the legislative lacuna that automatically surfaces once the private players enter the fray. The plan also appears to have taken into consideration the sentiment of the victims of the Corporation’s poor services. Whether or not the promised improved services will be implemented as planned is too early to predict but if past is any guide, the NWSC has to do a mighty lot to ease its suspect image vis-a-vis leaking pipes, pilferage, inadequate supply and a rigid tariff. The tariff has already been hiked but the changes the Corporation says will gradually come will be awaited. The Water Supply Management Board Ordinance 2005 should help downsize the bloated Corporation, thanks to political patronage offered by the successive governments. The new changes will mean little until the Corporation is streamlined, made slick and responsive to the market/consumer dynamics. Only then can it start imagining of effecting a change in the breadth of services it can offer.