City of Beards and Deodorants


(taken from

I landed Mumbai’s International airport after a gap of three months travelling in the United States. When I got out of the aircraft, I saw the local airline staff with wheelchairs on the connecting bridge. All men standing there had long beards. I reached the immigration desk. All immigration officers were sporting thick beards. On immigration I breezed through the customs. All customs officers had white beards matching with their white uniforms. Soon, I realized that all men at the airport had grown beards – the policemen, the taxi wallahs, men receiving their folks, the McDonald staff at the counters… I was simply astonished!

When I got into my car, and asked my driver (who also had grown a beard), what’s wrong? He said “Mumbai is in a severe water crisis and there is 60% water cut. The city administration has banned shaving for men to save water. All hairdresser shops are also closed.”

As we were exiting the parking lot and paid for the ticket, I was given a deodorant spray – with complements of the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. The spray was with a flyer. The flyer appealed  that please don’t take bath every day but once in three days – as there was no water in Mumbai’s water reservoirs. That hit me real hard.

When we reached my apartment, the driver parked the car at another spot than my usual parking place. When I asked him he said that the locations of parking were chosen such that the cars were under the air conditioners. The drip-drops from the air conditioners fitted in the apartments would fall on the cars and this water would be used for cleaning. No use of freshwater was allowed for washing cars.

I checked my mail box at the ground floor. The box was full of flyers on saving water and notices from the Corporation on new water related rules, dos and don’ts and punitive actions that will be taken. There was an inspection report from the Municipal Officer who had visited the flat in my absence. The report said that he found 4 taps in the bathroom, 2 showerheads and 2 wash-basins. I was told to shut down 2 taps, one showerhead and remove 1 wash basin to immediate effect.  This is what the Corporation would allow. There was no question of having a tub in the bathroom. A model of typical tub was now placed in the Prince of Wales Museum for people to see and remember

I did not take a shower and sprayed deodorant on my suit and went to the office. The office was smelling with deodorants – few colleagues were sneezing and some had watery eyes due the allergy of the spray.

There were few plumbers moving around the toilet. “These guys are changing our toilet to waterless urinals” My colleague said. I thought this will be smelly. But our office was told so by the Building society. Then I saw a big heap of paper napkins. This was because no hand washing was allowed after lunch. I realized that the city would produce huge quantity of tissue paper waste soon.

We decided to go for lunch in the nearby restaurant. The food items were limited. Only dry vegetables were served. No spicy food was provided as it would lead to more demand for drinking water. No finger bowls allowed. Only small volume glasses of water were provided for drinking. Just one glass per person was allowed. For the second glass, the charge was equivalent to a bottle of coke. So many were drinking coke. Everyone at the lunch table was talking about the water cut and was thinking of moving out of Mumbai.

The price of the bottled water was now nearly three times – but yet truckloads of water bottles were brought to the city. The menace of used plastic water bottles was certainly going to increase, There were more water tankers now on the streets and queues out side the city wells were longer than the one on the Chaturthee at the Siddhivinayak.



I noticed that the greenery in the city had reduced as there was no water available for gardening. There were now plastic lawns at the Turf club and the Chembur Golf Club. The Golfers were having a hard time to adjust to the new “roughness”.

Next day I was lecturing at IIT Bombay. My colleagues told me that a major scientific committee was formed consisting some of the senior professors. They were looking at tapping moisture in the air and produce water. Besides the challenge on technology, there was an issue of pollution in the air. The water so derived required purification to remove the air pollutants and this was where the economics of the project was failing. I wished the city air was not that polluted.

There was another big project that was getting discussed. This was about converting the city sewage by tertiary treatment into water. This water could be used for washing, cooling, drinking etc. depending on the level of treatment provided. The Idea was to stop sending the sewage to the sea but build sewage recycling plants at various locations. This project required land, investments and some 10 years to implement. Some said that such a project should have been conceived and planned much in advance. Today in Mumbai sewage recycling happens in some of the multistoried buildings and industries like Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers. There are by-laws on sewage recycling but not seriously enforced. Some said that there will be risks on recycling as the sewage characteristics today are rather complex and not easy to treat, especially the micro-pollutants. The transportation of treated sewage for use was also going to be challenge.

Never too late, we could at least start with a pilot project – I said to myself. Sewage recycling plants will certainly work on a decentralized basis.

The corporation was also looking at identifying a new source of water. These sources were far away at some 150 km distance. This would require huge energy to pump. Indeed this was not going to be a very sustainable solution. Till then the building proposals department was asked not to approve new buildings. That made the officers working in the proposal department a bit upset as there was not going to be any transaction.

Rainwater harvesting could be a good strategy – While rainwater harvesting is mandated in Mumbai, its implementation is not seriously taken. There are not many good professionals. There are space constraints and people generally neglect operation and maintenance. Of course, rainwater harvesting will help only if it rains – I thought.


Given the grim situation on water, I was generally impressed with the efforts taken by the Corporation. I spoke about this to my Professor friend.

He looked at me and laughed. “We are really out of the mark. The first think we should do is to address the water loss and pilferage happening at our pipelines. Mumbai has the highest rate of water loss. Its nearly 50% today. If fixed on priority, then we will address half of our problem. No need then to look for new water sources or levy severe water cuts”





I thought he had a point.

We often don’t do things that are sometimes so obvious!

Sure, we  don’t want to see cities with people with beards and using deodorants. Stopping the leaks from the pipes conveying water to the city makes an abundant sense!


  1. Let MCGM undertake all the measures that they are publicizing. Those are all short term ones. Should we think seriously about long term measures, like educating children for inculcating simple water management ethics right from today.. They are the ones who will be tomorrow’s professionals dealing with water management issues. Especially since it is predicted that water shortages are going to increase with time, El Nino or no El Nino.

  2. I did one mini project during my course work in IIT wherein we were surveying water distribution networks in slums near IIT-Powai. Loss of water through leakages and improper distribution are some of main cause of scarcity of water. Municipal corporation should actively engage NGOs in this kind of survey and findings should be proactively acted.

  3. While researching drought conditions over the globe; came across your blog on recent water shortage in Mumbai. I was surprised to see that presently the water loss is nearly 50%. I can understand some of the unaccounted water could be attributed to illegal connections and leaks through ancient distribution mains in old parts of the city. However I presume Municipal water supply lasts only for couple of hours on a daily basis.

    During the “Bombay Water Supply and Sewerage Feasibility Report” prepared for Bombay Municipal Corporation funded by World Bank in late 70’s-early 80’s TCE (Tata Consulting Engineers) assumed leakages to be around 8 to12%. Pressure transducers were proposed on the new and old transmission lines from Upper Vaitarna, Vaitarna and Bhatsa which would readily inform the Control Room about the possible break in the main.

    One interesting note on demand/supply and human ingenuity was that while calculating the demand for Dharavi slum area; TCE never thought that there would be multi storied slum dwellings thereby underestimating the water demand.

    1. Dear Madhav

      Many thanks for recounting the earlier work. The estimates of water loss in transmission and distribution vary upto as high as 60%.

      The official figures are generally lower to 25-30%

      Report by Mumbai First may interest you. See

      You may in addition like to refer to

      Do let me know more about your work on this topic


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