KARACHI, Jan 7: A liberal policy pursued by the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) and Karachi’s all cantonment boards (CBs) with regard to the approval of building plans of high-rise buildings and huge housing/commercial complexes is constantly mounting additional burden on the already fragile water and sewerage infrastructure of the city.

Under the liberal policy, the SBCA and CBs grant approval to the building plans without seeking a mandatory no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board despite knowing that the utility organisation is not at all in a position to replace the mostly obsolete, undersized and leaking pipelines owing to its serious financial constraints.

“Isn’t it irony that neither the SBCA nor the CBs have ever bothered to seek an NOC from the board while approving skylines and huge complexes although the utility organisation bears the responsibility to lay a water supply and sewerage system for these projects?”, KWSB managing director Misbahuddin Farid argued during a presentation titled “Rationalisation of KWSB tariff” made for the city’s business community, especially industrialists, that opposes the recently announced hike in water tariff.

He disclosed that the SBCA and CBs wouldn’t even transfer to KWSB the ‘betterment charges’ that they receive from builders under the head of ‘infrastructure charges’.

He told the business community that the board’s financial position was pitiable but the utility could be transformed into a sustainable and economically viable organisation if the collected amount of infrastructure charges was transferred to the KWSB, the annual subsidy which the KMC used to provide to the water utility till 200l was restored, the power tariff currently being charged at industrial/commercial rates are changed at a special rate for the KWSB (for it is a public utility organization) and water tariff was rationalised. To justify these demands, he argued that water was being supplied to consumers at less than its full production cost.

Lion’s share

The business community was informed that a major factor contributing to KWSB’s deteriorating financial health was the abolishment of ‘conservancy and fire taxes’ which the utility used to collect from consumers along with the water and sewerage bills till 2008. “Although the money used to be collected under the head of conservancy charges and fire tax had to be transferred to the (now defunct) CDGK, this amount had often been added to the CDGK’s share for the completion of various development projects initiated under the ‘Tameer-i-Karachi Programme’. After abolishing the conservancy and fire taxes, the CDGK share in programme had stopped and hence the KWSB liability towards contractors executing the projects increased,” Mr Farid said, adding: “The liability has now crossed the Rs3 billion mark”.

Proudly presenting the KWSB as one of the biggest water and sewerage utility organisations of the world, he pointed out that water was being supplied to the city from a place as far as 160 kilometers away through the ‘bulk conveyance system’ comprising a complex network of canals, conduits, siphons, multi-stage pumping and filtration etc for a population of 22 million based in Karachi and its suburban areas such as Gharo, Dhabeji and Pipri.

‘Tariff hike reasonable’

Justifying the recent increase in water tariff, he said that the charges were based on an approved tariff though the proposal was not given due importance in the past and the rates were not substantially revised to cover the inflation in different sectors affecting the KWSB’s direct and indirect expenditures, specially the sky-rocketing electricity charges that had gone up no less than 16 times as compared to those in 1992.

In this regard, he said that it was because of the ever-increasing power tariff that the KWSB was unable to clear its power bills — about Rs370 million a month.

On the one hand, he said, the city’s present vertical and horizontal expansion was creating serious water and sewerage problems and, on the other, katchi abadis of the metropolis appeared not willing to pay the water utility dues despite receiving the services.

Besides, KWSB under the government’s instructions had to offer subsidised tariff to bulk consumers such as Pakistan Steel, Port Qasim, SITE industrial area etc without any subsidy having been offered to help resolve its own financial issues, he added.

Mr Farid said that it was under these circumstances that the KWSB in 2001 decided to increase its tariff by nine per cent annually in order to recover the cost of its services and to run the utility in an efficient and sustainable manner. But the Sindh government’s approval for an annual increase of nine per cent remained unimplemented until 2008 and thereafter the tariff was revised in 2008-9, 2009-10 and 2010-11 only at the same percentage, leaving behind a deficit in increase of the tariff for six years.

“Even with this recent increase in water tariff, the KWSB will not be able to meet its administrative, operational and maintenance expenditures except for reducing the gap between its income and expenditure as the current estimated monthly expenditure was around Rs1300 million per month whereas the recent 27 per cent increase in the tariff will raise its monthly income from Rs350 million to Rs500 million,” the KWSB chief said.

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