The EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) scheme provides subsidized water and sewer connections to economically weaker households. It was launched in 2008 by the then Local Administration Minister M.K Stalin. When it was rolled out, the scheme was expected to benefit 48,000 households in the city. Under it, applicants could avail of water and sewer connections at connection charges of Rs. 100. Without a subsidy, these connection charges would amount to Rs. 7500.
Economically Weaker Sections are defined as households that earn less than Rs.1 lakh per annum.  To be eligible for the scheme, the household must have a built-up area of up to 500 sq meters and the applicant some form of address proof. Another eligibility criterion involves the applicant submitting letters to the Revenue department of the Corporation of Chennai and the Finance department of the Metrowater Board seeking the levy of property tax and the calculation of water and sewerage tax. Water connections are awarded at a concessional rate only if the applicant has a functioning sewer connection. Water connections are awarded for hand pumps, and sewer connections for water closets.
The application form is free, available online and also at the Metrowater area offices.  The procedure to apply for a EWS connection is the same as that for any water or sewer connection. A one page application form that requires information about the legal status of the applicant, the type of connection and some contact details has to be completed. Also, documents like CMDA or Corporation of Chennai sanctioned plans, notice for assessment of property, registration number of sewer application and proof of having paid taxes and charges, address proof etc have to be enclosed with the application.
The completed application form and enclosures have to be submitted at the registration counter at the utility’s head office in Chintadripet. The fees for the connection have to be paid through a challan. The applicant is supposed to receive an acknowledgement slip and a registration number after which the application is forwarded to the concerned area engineer. If all goes well, the applicant will have a water and/or a sewer connection within 30 days from the date of registration.
In slums and informal settlements, property rights are often difficult to define and hence EWS applications from these areas are possibly difficult to process and award. Slums have not been declared by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board since 1985. So, several slums are not “official” and do not have formal access to basic municipal services. Needless to say, access to water in these slums is hopelessly inadequate. A survey of 242 “undeveloped” slums in the Corporation of Chennai’s earlier boundaries revealed that the slums had to rely on public taps, wells and water tanks. On an average the number of persons dependent on a water point was found to be around 620, far higher than the norm of 75.
The application form also requires the applicant to sign a declaration which states: “Our street is having water/sewer main, hence I am applying for water/sewer connection”. Clearly then, the scheme cannot be implemented in areas like slums and informal settlements, as they are inadequately served by the utility’s network.
Also, while the scheme is known as the “100 rupee connection”, like all things too good to believe, there is fine print. Only the connection charges amount to Rs.100 and there are other charges like material costs. Material costs amounting to Rs. 350 have to be paid wherever Metrowater has laid a sewer up to the compound wall of the premises. Also, the applicant has to pay extra road cut charges if the road has been newly laid. After the connection has been awarded, the applicant has to pay Rs. 50 per month for a dwelling unit as water and sewer charges. 
Not so good. From Metrowater’s data, it looks like the scheme has had a very variable impact. Based on data from an RTI, 48 out of 128 do not have any EWS water and sewer connections.
The EWS scheme requires that an applicant have a sewer connection to be eligible for a water connection. However, in 42 wards there are more water than sewer connections. Strangely, these wards are concentrated in only four Metrowater areas.
Clearly, the data leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, how is it that some wards have one EWS connection while others have 450? What explains the disproportionate number of water to sewer connections in some wards? An in-depth study into the EWS connection is required to understand how the Board translates its mission of contributing to the health and quality of life of citizens of Chennai into reality for low-income residents.
 Water Connection for at Rs. 100 for underprivileged launched” , The Hindu, 10 September, 2008, accessed 3, June 2013, http://www.hindu.com/2008/09/10/stories/2008091059570300.htm
 Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, “Revision of Income Ceilings for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Low Income Group (LIG)”,accessed 3 June, 2013, http://mhupa.gov.in/W_new/EWS_OFFICE_MEMORUNDUM_14_11_2012.pdf
Concessions in Sewer and Water Connection Charges for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS), Chennai Metrowater, accessed 3 June 2013, http://www.chennaimetrowater.tn.nic.in/rti/rti_Reg_EWS.htm
 Citizen Charter, Chennai Metrowater, accessed 3 June 2013, http://www.chennaimetrowater.tn.nic.in/public/charter.htm
 A challan is a form that is filled to make a payment.
 Indian Resources Information & Management Technologies, Limited, “Chapter 6: Demand-gap assessment of environmental infrastructure services and prefeasibility” in Pre-Feasibility Study for Identification of Environmental Infrastructure Requirement in Slums in Chennai Metropolitan Area, 110 (2005)
 Tariffs, Chennai Metrowater, accessed on: June 3rd 2013, http://www.chennaimetrowater.tn.nic.in/departments/finance/tariff.htm
 RTI filed with Chennai Metrowater on 19th October 2012
Written by Vinaya Padmanabhan, researcher, Transparent Chennai