PRESSURE: The PoliTechnics of Water Supply in Mumbai

By Nikhil Anand:

“Now there is a [state] policy regulation for water that we are bound by. Those structures prior to January 1995 are eligible for basic amenities. We are allowed . . . supposed to give water to them. Those [who have unauthorized structures built] after that date also get water. They make arrangements to take connections, forge ration cards and do such things to get them. . . . In slums our policy is to give water connections to federations of 15 employees. We bring the connection to them, and their secretary is responsible for bill collection maintenance, bill payment, etc. If the population is at higher elevations, then we provide them with a suction pump and infrastructure at the bottom, and make them responsible for its operation and maintenance. The total revenue of the department is Rs. 1480 crores, of which Rs. 800 crore is the profit.1 It is the only public utility with such performance. The slum dwellers are good paymasters. The government is not. Central, state governments are difficult. So this is the summary . Y ou have questions?”

—Patkar, Engineer, Water Department, Mumbai, September 14, 2007


In Mumbai, most all residents are delivered their daily supply of water for a few hours every day, on a water supply schedule. Subject to a more precarious supply than the city’s upper-class residents, the city’s settlers have to consistently demand that their water come on “time” and with “pressure.” Taking pressure seriously as both a social and natural force, in this article I focus on the ways in which settlers mobilize the pressures of politics, pumps, and pipes to get water. I show how these practices not only allow settlers to live in the city, but also produce what I call hydraulic citizenship—a form of belonging to the city made by effective political and technical connections to the city’s infrastructure. Yet, not all settlers are able to get water from the city water department. The outcomes of settlers’ efforts to access water depend on a complex matrix of socionatural relations that settlers make with city engineers and their hydraulic infrastructure. I show how these arrangements describe and produce the cultural politics of water in Mumbai. By focusing on the ways in which residents in a predominantly Muslim settlement draw water despite the state’s neglect, I conclude by pointing to the indeterminacy of water, and the ways in which its seepage and leakage make different kinds of politics and publics possible in the city.

Read article at Cultural Anthropology Vol 26, Issue 4, pp. 542–564, November 2011.


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