One of the very first steps the Punjab caretaker government has taken is implementing a 400 percent increase in water utility bills for all major cities of the province. This was done after the Water and Sanitation Agencies (Wasa) of Rawalpindi, Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan and Faisalabad asserted the need for higher tariffs due to rising expenses that they are unable to meet. There is no doubt about the fact that this will add immense pressure onto the masses but at the same time, the government is also taking necessary measures like introducing a Rs.200 million subsidy to smooth things over.
As per the caretaker, the increase in tariff was supposed to come into effect from July 1, which means that all water bills moving forward from August will include higher charges. The development comes 15 years after the last hike in prices of water utilities. Ever since, Wasa has been experiencing a shortage of funds, and a hike in power tariff has resulted in the quadrupling of operating costs.
Further burden was also added after employees’ salaries were also increased to facilitate adjustments, keeping in mind a high cost of living. Given all of this and the fact that the government is already experiencing a severe fiscal imbalance, a decision like this was bound to be taken.
It is reassuring to see that the government is taking steps to ease the masses into this change. In order to absorb the Rs.200 million in loss, the government has created a framework for charging for water and sewerage as per households, and their income. This will ensure an equitable distribution of financial burden, all the while enabling the government to make important adjustments to the country’s fiscal policies–something the IMF has put immense pressure on.