Friday, January 13, 2012

Mumbai succumbs to a new underworld - the water mafia

By Anuj Chopra

MUMBAI - As night envelops Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, in the Indian city of Mumbai, two dozen dwellers sidle out of their shanties clutching steel ewers and plastic cans. They hurriedly clamber over a wrought iron railing fence, race across a tangle of railway tracks, braving speeding local trains, and crowd around a spigot in a desolate patch on the other side. Soon the place is burbling with a feverish scramble for water. Amid fist fights and verbal blows, they take turns to fill their containers from the gushing spigot. Then they run back to empty them with relatives waiting on the other side of the railing, and sprint back for a refill.

Sitting on a concrete platform a short distance away, chewing tobacco, is Ravi Anna, recognised as a local goon who controls the spigot. He offers slum dwellers without water connections a chance to collect drinking water between 7pm and 10pm every day - for a fee. To an outsider, the arrangement might sound entrepreneurial, except that this water is not his to sell. The spigot draws from a water tank belonging to the Indian Railways.


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