Number narratives of water shortages: Delinking water resources development from water distribution in Mumbai, India

Sachin Tiwale
Centre for Water Policy and Governance, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India; and Centre for Policy Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India; sachin.tiwale@tiss.edu

ABSTRACT: This paper examines the numbers associated with the water demand estimation process followed for the city of Mumbai, particularly focusing on the per capita water supply standard. The per capita standard is a critical figure for the planning, design, and operation of the entire urban water supply system from dam to household level tap. Historically, high per capita standards were consistently prescribed for Mumbai to overestimate water demand and construct number narratives of water shortages. These narratives were successfully used to appropriate a larger share of water by justifying a series of dams and keeping other urban centres and villages within the region water deprived. In colonial and post-colonial times Mumbai always received enough water, brought using higher per capita standards. However, these supply standards were never measured and monitored during actual service delivery within the city. The water demand of poor slum residents was overcounted by following universal per capita standards when bringing water to the city. However, the same slum residents were subtracted or underserved during actual service delivery. Analysing colonial and post-colonial practices of water resources development, this paper illustrates the limitations of the existing approach of water demand estimation using the prescribed per capita standard, which delinks the process of water resources development from water distribution within the city. The prescribed per capita standard does not reflect the conditions of access and status of supply provisioning and underplays the issues pertaining to the poor performance of the distribution network, which further marginalises the urban poor.

KEYWORDS: water demand estimation, water supply, standard, narratives, Mumbai, India