Troubled Waters

Coimbatore’s 24x7 water supply project facing delays

Coimbatore city is one of the fastest growing urban agglomerations in Tamil Nadu. Rapid urbanisation and growing industrialisation have resulted in acute water scarcity and an unequal distribution of freshwater supply. To combat persistent water shortages and irregular water supply to residents of the city, the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC), Tamil Nadu, is implementing a 24×7 water supply project. At present, the civic agency is undertaking tendering for the project, which seeks to upgrade existing water supply systems in the core areas of the city covering 60 out of the 100 wards under CCMC limits. The project was approved in 2013 under the Urban Infrastructure Governance sub-mission of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (now the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation).

The detailed project report for the 24×7 water supply project was prepared in 2013 by Fichtner Consulting Engineers India Private Limited. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 5.56 billion, excluding operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. About 50 per cent of the projected capital expenditure will be met through funds from the Ministry of Urban Development.

As per the initially approved project, 50 per cent of the total project cost will be covered by central assistance, 20 per cent by the Tamil Nadu government and the remaining 30 per cent by the civic agency. In addition, the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Development Finance Board may provide the CCMC grant support to the tune of 20 per cent of the staggered annuity payment (not exceeding 20 per cent of the total project cost).

The CCMC had floated a request for qualification (RfQ) in November 2015 and two firms had participated. Both firms qualified for the second round – the request for proposal stage. Thereafter, despite 12 extensions, neither of the firms submitted a response. Reportedly, an international company that was shortlisted after the tender process refused to tie up with local contractors and later withdrew from the project, leading the CCMC to reissue the RfQ for a second time. Companies were given time till March 27, 2017, to respond to the second call. However, the same international company was shortlisted once again.

Current scenario

At present, the CCMC provides 153 million litres per day (mld) of potable water to the city. Although the city’s bulk water availability is enough to meet the 175 mld water demand, the entire distribution network is in a dilapidated condition, leading to water losses and hence insufficient supply to the end user.

For the past several months, Coimbatore has been battling an acute water supply shortage. In January 2017, water supply from the Siruvani dam – which normally provides approximately 70 mld of water to the city – came to a complete halt for the first time in 90 years. Further, several damaged pipelines have contributed to frequent leakages and high leakage levels in the recent past. In 2015-16, the city’s non-revenue water (NRW) was as high as 56 per cent

The per capita water availability in the city ranges from 75 litres per capita per day (lpcd) to 125 lpcd, with a supply duration of three-four hours per day. As per a CCMC notification of March 26, 2016, the city’s household level water supply coverage was 44 per cent in 2015-16, against a target of 100 per cent coverage by 2019-20.

Key features of project

Under the 24×7 water supply project, the CCMC plans to upgrade the existing water supply infrastructure (including the distribution system) in 63 zones comprising 1,470 km of pipelines, 105 km of feeder mains, and service reservoirs (of 40.2 million litre capacity), and provide 150,000 households service connections. Further, the scope of the project entails the construction of two gas chlorination plants and a water quality testing laboratory. The project also seeks to introduce digitisation and metering to tackle leakages by reducing the level of NRW from 56 per cent at present to 20 per cent. Accordingly, 101 bulk meters and five automatic hand-held meter reading systems will be installed. In addition, five “anytime payment” machines are proposed to be installed under the project to modernise billing systems.

As part of the project, a supervisory control and data acquisition system will be installed to track, monitor and control the performance of the water supply system by collecting and analysing real-time data such as water levels, pressure, flow and quality. The scope of the project also includes regular detection and plugging of water leakages while repairing or replacing existing water assets. The project will also supply bulk water to surrounding villages.

The project will be implemented on a build-transfer-operate basis by a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to be set up with shares held by the CCMC and the private firm. The SPV will operate and maintain the water supply system (for a period of 25 years), including withdrawal, treatment, transportation and supply of water, and will also undertake billing and the provision of other customer services.

The key outcomes that the project seeks to achieve are a reduction in NRW as per Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation norms and the provision of 24×7 metered water (135 lpcd) to 100 per cent of the habitations in the project area. The project also aims to achieve 95 per cent efficiency in the collection of water supply-related charges, 100 per cent cost recovery in water supply services and 90 per cent efficiency in addressing customer complaints.

The way forward

Since its conception in 2013, the 24×7 water supply project has faced delays and hindrances. The tendering process has also been renewed and extended several times. The CCMC now intends to involve the international firm selected in the second round of tendering for executing the project, though a final decision on this is yet to be taken. Going by the present status, civil works are likely to begin only by end-2018. Preliminary studies are expected to take about a year after the contract is awarded.

That said, many issues and concerns will need to be sorted out in order to ensure timely project award and implementation. The biggest challenge will be ensuring ease of doing business by reducing political interference and improving transparency in business transactions. Moreover, the lack of adequate financial and technical capability of the civic agency is another area of grave concern.

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