The Punjab government is resisting imposing the 80 percent hike in the commercial water tariff fearing a backlash from the public already unhappy over the government’s performance, Pakistan Today learnt on Friday.
According to a Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) official, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led Punjab government was not deciding the issue of the water tariff for the last six months. He said that the PML-N leaders were attending official meetings despite the fact that according to rules, they could not interfere in the affairs of the department. He said that the PML-N had clearly stated that they would not increase the water tariff, as it would irk the general public already burdened with high inflation. According to WASA officials, party leaders had informed a meeting held in August that the Punjab government would not approve the hike in the water tariff and WASA should revamp its operations to generate additional revenue for bridging its budget deficits. In January, WASA had moved a summary to the Punjab government stating that water tariff for commercial consumers needed to be increased, as the department’s budget deficit had reached Rs 1.8 billion.
According to the summary, WASA had not increased the water tariff for commercial users since 2004 when it had hiked the tariff by Rs 25 to 46 per thousand gallons. The department needed to increase the tariff as electricity rates had been increased by Rs 5 per unit in 2004 to Rs 10 per unit in 2010, the summary stated. A WASA Finance Department official said that the Punjab government had agreed to increase the water tariff from Rs 46 to 82 per thousand gallons but the PML-N leaders and businessmen close to the Sharif family had strongly opposed such a move.
Lahore Caterers and Decoration Association Senior Vice President Ashfaq Ashraf said that the 80 percent hike in the water tariff would destroy the catering business. “Catering business uses more water than other businesses. Most of the people engaged in the business are small traders who are already facing great difficulty to make both ends meet due to increase in different taxes. Small traders already have to pay water bills worth Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 and it would reach Rs 30,000 after rise in the water tariff,” he added.
Qaumi Tajir Ittehad (QTI) President Nazir Chohan flayed the 80 percent rise in water tariff for commercial units. He said that the government wanted traders to wrap up their businesses and leave the country by revising the rates of power, gas and water. He said that the QTI had called an emergent meeting to prepare a strategy to deal with the irrational rise in the commercial water tariff. Mall Road Traders Association General Secretary Qazi Aftab said that the government had no vision to promote business activities in the country. “We will stage demonstrations throughout the province if revision of water rates is not rationalised,” he added. According to WASA officials, the total number of consumers stood at 0.55 million with 0.52 million domestic and 30,000 commercial consumers. He said that a large number of government departments were not paying their water bills adding to the miseries of the water agency. The official said that if the government could not increase the water tariff then it should devise an alternative strategy to help WASA deal with its massive financial difficulties.