It’s not just Delhi; Lucknow too has a thriving water mafia

Akin to Delhi, water tankers have become a vital source of water supply in the summer months in UP’s capital; But there is no official regulation of this shady business

Amidst the ongoing summer season leading to water shortages across India, the news media has widely reported the frenzied demand for water tankers in the national capital. However, the situation is not endemic to Delhi. Almost 500 kilometres eastwards, Lucknow is also in the grip of the same crisis but has not received its much deserved attention from the press.

Visuals of crowds scrambling around water tankers are widely shared on social media. But a closer look at the situation raises some vital questions — from where are these water-filled tankers arriving in such large numbers? Who owns and regulates this business? Are the tankers adding to the crisis? Or are they indispensable? 

In search of answers to these questions, Down To Earth (DTE) reached Lucknow’s Ashiyana locality where we traced these water tankers to an owner named Hari Prasad. Sitting in his shop on a lazy afternoon in Ashiyana’s semi-urban Kila Mohammadi Nagar, Prasad boasted that he owns six water tankers.

“I have been in the water supply business for 15 years. When the water department fails to supply water, the residents contact us, and we transport water from here. They pay us Rs 400 for one tanker. Each tanker carries 4,000 litres of water,” he informed.

‘We have a GST number’

When asked about the details about any licence, permit or approval that he is required to obtain to operate his business, Prasad’s response lacked any hints of an official protocol except for a ‘GST number’.

“I have a GST number. No licence is required for getting into the business of supplying water through tankers. The peak demand for water is during the summer months of May and June. That is when we make the highest profits. There are about 50 tankers in our village and like me, 10-12 people supply water to the nearby areas,” the middle-aged man said.

He went on to say that from July to October, the demand for water decreases: “During those months, there is occasional demand for a tanker only for public gatherings or an event. Whereas in April, May, and June, there are days when we cannot meet the demand.” 

Despite giving out such information about his business, Prasad was seemingly cautious, almost apprehensive while talking. His neighbours are in the same business and he could jeopardise the entire enterprise by talking to a reporter. 

These men, who are in the business of supplying water tankers, have submersible motors installed in their houses. They own an average of four tankers per individual. Some of those who have been in the business for decades, own up to 10 tankers.

These people charge customers Rs. 400-600 per tanker. 

Further conversations with local water suppliers revealed that they do not make any particular arrangement for ensuring water quality. 

Some tanker owners talked about washing the tanker before filling, while others mentioned adding bleaching powder. 

Disparity, the usual suspect

As is the case in Delhi, socio-economic disparity plays a huge role in Lucknow’s water crisis.

Most demand for tankers comes from areas where there are power outages for two to three days or the water supply is cut off for a few days. These areas are mostly inhabited by underprivileged sections of society.

In the peak summer months of May and June, Lucknow witnesses numerous bhandaras (free public feasts). That also contributes to the rise in demand for water tankers. The underprivileged sections of society throng these bhandaras for food.

Sunil Rajput, another owner of water tankers from Ashiyana, told DTE over the phone that the maximum demand for tankers comes from neighbouring Alambagh.

The neighbourhood has Lucknow’s biggest interstate bus terminal, where thousands of passengers depart and arrive on a daily basis. 

Suraj Rajput, another water tanker owner, revealed more details about the government’s approval for these tankers.

“There is no licence as such. Tanker owners have been installing water motors in their houses. But they do it only after getting a commercial electricity meter. Apart from this, there is no need to get any licence. What we are doing isn’t a bad thing. When the administration fails to provide  water, where else will the people get their water from?” he shot back a question at this reporter in response.

However, not everybody chose to talk when asked about their business dynamics. 

This reporter came across several tankers doing a refill near a primary school in Lucknow’s Todhankhera Nagar. 

“I am not the owner. I do not know anything,” a young man in charge of the water hose that filled the water in the tankers said. 

DTE also visited a locality named New Rahim Nagar in one of the areas where the Lucknow Jal Sansthan officially supplies water by tanker in case of necessity.

Rajesh Kumar, who was filling water from the Lucknow Jal Sansthan’s vehicle, told us, “The population here is 30,000. But there is no tank for water supply anywhere. There are four tube wells in this locality from which water is supplied. The tube well in our area has been damaged for three days. We have informed the Jal Sansthan and a tanker has been requested. There are a lot of problems here, especially in the summer months. The water of the tanker is said to be pure, but we do not drink it.”

When DTE approached the concerned authorities at the Jal Sansthan’s office in the Aishbagh area to ask questions about the daily water supply in the district and regulation of private water suppliers, the answers were not provided.

Phone calls made to these authorities were also not answered.

However, some functionaries in the department informed on the condition of anonymity that the administration has no connection with private water tankers and there is no available information on the number of tankers operating in the district.

“There is no shortage of water in the Lucknow district,” the officials in the department claimed in unison.

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