May 19, 2021

What is the price of water in the city of Mumbai?

Poor water governance has cut off several residents from Mumbai's water system, making equal access to all a distant dream.

3 min read

Thousands of Mumbai’s citizens are disconnected from the city’s water supply network. This photo essay reports on the impact of the poor governance of this essential resource on informal urban settlements.

Image 1_A water tap with a lock-water for all-picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) maintains one of the most extensive and complex water distribution systems in the world, comprising nearly 20,000 kilometres of pipelines. Yet, the source of the water in the taps and their consumption levels, remain a mystery to most people living in the city.

Image 2_overview of Mumbai slums-water for all-picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

The MCGM supplies 3.8 billion litres of water daily with a tariff of INR 5 for every 1,000 litres. However, an individual in an informal settlement can receive less than 20 litres daily—which is below the minimum consumption level recommended by WHO. In several informal settlements, 95 percent of all existing households use less than 50 litres per capita per day, increasing the chances of contracting and spreading diseases.

Image 3_ Person sitting on top of water containers at the entrance of a slum-water for all-picture courtesy- Suraj Katra

Social differences are reproduced by the accreted laws, policies, and techniques that govern water in the postcolonial city.

Image 4_ Woman at a train crossing at Dadar station holding cans-water for all-picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

In response to a PIL filed by Pani Haq Samiti, a local right to water collective, a 2014 High Court Order promised to provide piped water to those who can prove residence in informal settlements before the year 2000. This promise, however, continues to be largely unmet.

Image 5_people standing on a stream of water washing clothes-water for all-picture courtesy_Suraj Katra

Residents of Geeta Nagar (in south Mumbai) rely on an unknown leakage outlet to wash their clothes. Roughly 27 percent of the city’s water is unaccounted for and lost to leakages, faulty meters, and unauthorised connections. The minimum amount lost monthly is approximately INR 2.5 crore.

Image 6_ a defunct water meter-water for all-picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

It is common practice that water charges in residential societies are shared equally between all members. This practice makes it difficult to establish the relationship between the price paid for water and the quantity used. With over 70 percent meters not working, the billing system heavily relies on estimates.

Image 7_ entrance of a house with several pipes and lines among debris-water for all-picture courtesy_Suraj Katra

Some citizens in informal settlements end up paying 40 times more for water and have to resort to informal sources, private tankers, and the black market to obtain their water. Seen here are floating pipes set up in cooperative effort by local plumbers and authorities in an informal settlement in south Mumbai.

Image 9_ woman wearing a mask carrying a water container-water for all-picture courtesy Suraj Katra

Despite living right in front of residential societies, citizens living in Siddharth Nagar (in a western suburb of Mumbai) are shunned away when they request water. During the pandemic, they had to manage with even less water since they had no savings and many would earlier procure water from their employers.

Image 8_people standing in line getting their water filled-water for all-picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

With restrictions imposed on movement during the pandemic, the MCGM arranged for water tankers in some communities. Pani Haq Samiti also filed a case in the high court on behalf of 33 informal settlements to urgently appeal for new water connections on humanitarian grounds. However, gradually as the lockdown period ended, tanker visits became unreliable in most areas.

Image 10_People standing and talking next to stacked water containers-water for all-picture courtesy Suraj Katra

Residents stack water containers side by side, each one of them marked with their owner’s identification. As waiting time increased to follow social distancing, quarrels over the quantity of water alloted or their position in the queue occurred more frequently.

Image 11_ a person holding a clear packet of water-water for all-picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

Several people living in informal settlements commonly purchase water in plastic pouches (sold at INR 2 or 3). They are especially sought during the morning by those who cannot access proper toilets.

Image 12_A volunteer collecting information from people-water for all-picture courtesy_Suraj Katra

Pravin Borkar, a social worker from Pani Haq Samiti (pictured here in Kaula Bandar, south Mumbai) collects information from residents to file applications with the MCGM for new water connections. The list of paperwork demanded by the MCGM is exhaustive and includes a No Objection Certificate from the land owner, a certificate of good character by the local councillor, and proof of residence before 2000. It also requires five households to jointly apply in a single application.

Image 13_people standing next to each other holding documents-water for all_picture courtesy-Suraj Katra

Pictured here, residents from GTB Nagar visit the local ward office to follow up on the applications they have jointly filed seven months ago for a new water connection. Several hundred applications are currently pending approval by the MCGM.

Image 14_a boy holding a bucket next to a sewer_water for all_picture courtesy Suraj Katra

Children too have to share this burden. Akash, whose father works as sewage cleaner (in picture) had to quit school. He spends close to an hour each day refilling a water tumbler from an unknown leak flowing into the Eksar Nullah in Borivali.

With unlimited water in every room at home, can well-off citizens claim to truly understand how those who are water insecure live?

This is an edited version of a photo essay that was originally published with Mumbai Water Narratives at the Living Waters Museum.

Know more

  • Learn about Pani Haq Samiti’s right to water campaign.
  • Learn more about Mumbai’s water supply and its issues with water security.
  • Understand in detail the civic issues related to Mumbai’s water supply

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Suraj Katra-Image
Suraj Katra

Suraj Katra works with nonprofits, activists, and researchers to create multimedia that generates awareness about ever-present issues in urban environments. In previous roles, he has helped strengthen stakeholder communications for several organisations in the development sector including Sneha Mumbai, Mann Deshi Bank,, and Teach For India. His photojournalism and documentary photography work have featured in the BBC, The Wire, and Quartz. View Suraj’s website.