What a waste of water!
A whopping 34 percent of annual revenue of Chattogram Wasa simply drips into thin air.
Over the last few years, Chattogram Wasa has lost between 30 percent and 34 percent of its revenue to "system loss", according to sources inside the institution.
System loss is the difference between the amount of water produced and the amount of water billed or consumed.
"Thirty four percent system loss is a huge waste of production and it is alarming for any institution," said SM Nazer Hossain, central vice president of Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB).
"Lack of proper management, illegal syndicate comprising a section of Wasa officials and meter readers, and weaknesses in monitoring are mainly responsible for this wastage."
The government incurs losses amounting to crores every year due to system loss, while consumers are compelled to pay more to make up a portion of the system loss, said Nazer.
According to Chattogram Wasa officials, the daily production of water is 45 crore litres against the daily demand of 50 crore litres.
The institution has over 81,000 connections in total, including the residential and commercial ones.
A residential user has to pay Tk 12.40 while a commercial user Tk 30.30 for every 1,000 litres of water.
If 34 percent of production is lost to system loss, around 15 crore litres of water is wasted in a day. If we calculate the average rate of both residential and commercial connections, price for every 1,000-litre water stands at above Tk 20.
That means, water worth over Tk 30 lakh is being wasted every day which translates to Tk 3 crore a month and Tk 36 crore a year.
The users are the biggest victims of this system loss as a major portion of the deficit are allegedly being imposed on them in the name of "average bill".
Many of them have to pay five to ten times the amount of their monthly use.
In many areas, meters have been out of order for years but the Wasa authorities have not taken steps to replace them with new ones.
Instead, the meters readers insist on issuing "average bill", said many users, adding that the readers issue arbitrarily high bills taking advantage of the situation.
"The Wasa officials are not interested to replace the meters that have gone out of order," said Nazer.
"Failing to get a new meter after repeated attempts, many users come to us. They get meters when we pursue the issue on their behalf."
"Getting a meter is the right of a client. Why would be they deprived of it? There are hundreds of illegal connections in the city. A section of Wasa officials in connivance with meter readers sell water illegally and impose the bill on the legal clients," he said, adding, "They are making crores and government is losing revenue."
Shamsul Alam, a resident of Katalganj area, said he used to pay Tk 2,000 to Tk 2,500 a month in bills to Chattogram Wasa but now pays over Tk 5,000 since 2019 after Wasa started imposing average billing.
"The meter readers bill us arbitrarily in the name of average billing although I have a meter," he said.
Expressing his resentment over the huge system loss of Chattogram Wasa, Helaluddin Ahmed, senior secretary of the ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, in a programme at Chattogram Wasa on December 13 last year asked the officials to take steps to reduce the wastage.
Against this backdrop, a high-level investigation body of Chattogram Wasa recently conducted a probe in this regard. The report was submitted to the 62nd external board meeting of Chattogram Wasa held last month.
Contacted, Mohsin Kazi, a board member of Chattogram Wasa and head of the probe body, said, "Over the last two years, the board members in every meeting expressed their resentment over the huge system loss of the institution and asked the management to take step to address the issue but it still remains a major problem."
Average billing system is being imposed on general clients to make up system loss, as a result of which many clients have lost their interest to pay bills, he said.
Hundreds of complaints regarding overbilling have been lodged with Wasa, he added.
In 2016, the amount of due bill was Tk 43 crore while it stands at Tk 105 crore this year, informed Mohsin.
"During the investigation, we came to know that many meter readers are working illegally in collusion with a section of officials. They are responsible for illegal connections," he added.
"We have given nine recommendations to decrease system loss and stop harassment of clients in the name of average billing system, including introducing identity cards for meter readers, fixing a perimeter of 1,000 metres for a reader, replacing the meters that have gone out of order immediately with new ones and ensuring that a client is not compelled to pay average bill for more than three months," he said.
Chattogram Wasa has 60 posts for meter readers, but a total of 43 readers are now appointed and rest 17 posts have remained vacant for years.
Contacted, Tahura Ferdous Begum, deputy managing director (admin) of Chattogram Wasa, said they were taking steps to appoint readers and manpower in other posts.
She claimed that initiatives have been taken to reduce system loss but declined to elaborate on the details.
Contacted, AKM Fazlullah, managing director of Chattogram Wasa, said system loss is a reality in Wasa and not a new concept.
"We are going to take a number of initiatives including digitalised the billing system, replacing the old pipelines with new ones and appointing manpower in vacant posts to reduce system loss," he said.
"We will also strengthen the monitoring system and drives to terminate illegal connections. System loss is expected to be reduced to single digit by the next year," he claimed.
Regarding the allegation of average billing or ghost billing, he said he had received many such complaints, adding that many of those have been addressed after investigation and many others were being processed.