It was around 4 pm on a burning hot day in Hyderabad. Dozens of water tankers were parked on the side of the road in Miyapur. None of the drivers or the cleaners were visible anywhere. Suddenly, laughter and frolic could be heard from somewhere behind the parked lorries. A group of drivers had gathered under the shade of a tree to play a round of cards. Unusually, in the peak of summer this year, they hardly have any work.
Swamy, one among those who were seated under the tree, began working for the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) in 1989. All these years, he has been driving tankers for the Board. He is among the seniors who are working at the Hydernagar filling station. â€śThere are around 100 water tankers in total here. Every tanker has a driver and a cleaner. This summer, we have witnessed what we havenâ€™t seen in the last 15 years. During summers, every tanker used to complete around 8-10 trips daily. Now, we hardly do 1-2 trips a day. We come to work, eat and then return,â€ť said Swamy.
All the tankers parked outside the filling station have been taken on lease by the Board. Usually, lesser work makes people happy. But, the drivers live in constant fear about a possible cut in salaries or a layoff by the Board.
Another man, Kurumurthy, has been working as a driver for the last six years. He said that so far, the salaries have been unaffected. â€śWe have been receiving our salaries on time and this is the only saving grace. With hardly any work, we are worried that they may lay off the drivers or cut our salaries. It's very kind of the officials to continue to pay us fully despite very low business this summer," he said.
The HMWSSB charges Rs 550 for the delivery of 5,000 liters of water for a distance up to 4 kms. The Board has around 800 tankers across the 78 water filling stations in the city. The summer months of March, April, and May are when maximum bookings for water tankers are made every year. When TNM looked into data sourced from HMWSSB, it was found that the bookings of water tankers have reduced drastically in 2021 when compared to the last two years.
Bookings reduced by more than 50%
While in 2019, a total of 2.75 lakh bookings were made in Hyderabad during the summer months of March, April and May, in 2020, the number of bookings reduced to 2.09 lakh bookings during the same time period. If this yearâ€™s data from March 2021 to May 17 is considered, the total number of bookings stands at a mere 95,012, which is approximately less than half of the bookings made in 2020 and around 65% lesser than 2019.
Speaking to TNM, TV Sridhar, Chief General Manager Revenue of HMWSSB said, â€śThe demand has been much lesser this year. This is because of a couple of factors. The temperature in Hyderabad hasnâ€™t been too high like the usual summers. The water levels have also improved in the city. Another important reason is that as commercial establishments are all closed ever since the pandemic began, the bookings have reduced.â€ť
Across Telangana, water levels have improved and according to data from March 2021, 27 districts in the state have observed a rise in groundwater levels while only six districts recorded a fall, compared to statistics from March last year. In Hyderabad, too, water levels have improved compared to last year.