City of Mutare Eats Humble Pie as Court Acts on Unilateral Disconnection of Water Supply

Mutare Magistrate Purity Gumbo has ordered City of Mutare to immediately restore water connection to a trader after the local authority had unilaterally disconnected supplies at his premises in a desperate bid to force him to pay arrears on his utility and rates bill.

Dharmesh Pitamber, who was represented by Moses Chikomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, filed an application at Mutare Magistrates Court after some officials from City of Mutare on Thursday 17 June 2021 disconnected water supplies at his premises in central Mutare after serving him with a “notice to disconnect water supplies” on 15 June 2021.

City of Mutare officials had disconnected water supplies on the basis of outstanding arrears on Pitamber’s utility and rates bills which has a separate account number and when in fact his water bill has its own separate account number, which he is religiously paying and is up to date.

In court, Chikomo argued that Pitamber could not be denied water without a just cause as he has a right to access to safe, clean and potable water enshrined in section 77 of the Constitution and the local authority’s actions amounted to an unlawful despoliation of his right to the enjoyment and use of water at his premises.

Chikomo said while City of Mutare has a right to collect its debts, it cannot do so by resorting to unlawful means and said since it is a public body and institution of local government it cannot deny a citizen water without a just cause.

The human rights lawyer stated that although Pitamber acknowledges his indebtedness on utility and rates bills and is making efforts to clear the arrears, the unilateral cutting of water supplies amounted to self-help.

Chikomo argued that Pitamber together with other people at his premises had been left exposed to unhygienic conditions since he could no longer use toilets, wash hands nor access clean drinking water and practice health and safety precautions of washing hands with clean and running water, which is critical to the national control of the outbreak and spread of coronavirus. He reasoned that the purported disconnection of water supply at his premises was unlawful, unwarranted and could not be justified in any way.

In the end, Magistrate Gumbo ordered City of Mutare to immediately restore water connection at Pitamber’s premises. Magistrate Gumbo also ordered that in the event of failure by City of Mutare to restore water supply within 24 hours after service of the court order, a Messenger of Court would be empowered to restore water supplies at Pitamber’s premises.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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