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Kejriwal opens free tap

- Water eligibility and cost remain grey areas

New Delhi, Dec. 30: The Aam Aadmi Party government delivered a key poll promise on its first weekday in office, announcing 20,000 litres of free water to households every month, although fever and diarrhoea confined Arvind Kejriwal to his home.

Twenty kilolitres a month translates into almost 667 litres a day — close enough to the 700 litres-a-day election pledge — and involves a monthly waiver of Rs 196 to potentially half of Delhi’s estimated 3.3 million households.

But some confusion remained on two related issues — the exact boundaries of eligibility for the concession, and the cost to the exchequer. (See chart)

After taking the decision at Kejriwal’s home, the Delhi Jal Board issued a press note saying: “It was decided that domestic consumers having functional meters (and) consuming up to 20 kilolitres per month will be exempted from making payment of water bills.”

Those who consume more than 20 kilolitres a month, however, will have to pay for the full amount. The tariff was today raised by 10 per cent. The new policy takes effect from January 1 and, for now, will apply till the end of this financial year on March 31.

Under the current tariff regime, the monthly bill for 20 kilolitres of water is Rs 196. Delhi, which has a population of 16 million, officially has 1.7 million domestic water connections apart from 300,000 commercial connections (to which the concession does not apply).

Slum dwellers and residents of unauthorised colonies, most of whom do not have water connections and rely on water tankers for supply, will be missing out on the concession.

A huge number of Delhi households, however, are known to have illegal water connections without meters, the pilferage putting a heavy burden on the exchequer.

“It seems we are not part of Delhi, so the Aam Aadmi Party has not considered our requirements,” complained Dinesh Ajmani, a resident of Dwarka, which survives entirely on water tankers despite not being an unauthorised colony.

Since Kejriwal had called in sick early in the morning, the Delhi Jal Board held its meeting at the chief minister’s Ghaziabad flat and took the decision around 4pm.

“Running 102 fever since yesterday. Severe loose motions. Sad that i won’t be able to attend office today,” Kejriwal had earlier tweeted.

A later tweet said: “It is duty of any responsible govt to provide ‘lifeline water’ to its citizens. We may debate the quantum but can we argue against the principle?”

Kejriwal claimed the scheme would cost his government Rs 160 crore a year, which means the tab will come to Rs 40 crore till March 31.

The state secretariat today witnessed long queues of people armed with complaints demanding to meet the newly appointed ministers, who struggled with the twin tasks of meeting the applicants and learning about their job.

“It’s turning out to be our biggest challenge. The meetings and greetings are taking up more time than our efforts to get to know our work,” education minister Manish Sisodia said.

“I want to tell the people that they do not necessarily have to meet the minister to submit their complaint.”

None of the ministers has accepted official cars. Women and child development minister Rakhi Birla arrived at the secretariat in an auto-rickshaw today while the rest came in their own vehicles.

For most of the day, journalists were kept out of the secretariat, probably because of the chaos the heavy media presence had created there on Saturday after the swearing-in. Reporters were allowed in only at 4pm today.