India is facing one of the worst water crises in its history, with almost 600 million people under high to extreme water stress, as per a recent report published by NITI Aayog. As per the report, about 21 major cities across the country, including New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020. In fact, a number of cities faced irregular or no supply of water in 2019 with Chennai being the worst hit. As a result, these cities have started taking preventive steps to deal with the looming water crisis in terms of depleting groundwater, inadequate water infrastructure, and exploitation of water resources. Urban local bodies (ULBs) have been encouraging conservation of fresh water through measures such as mandatory rainwater harvesting (RWH), use of recycled wastewater for non-potable purposes and installation of smart water meters. Some cities such as Delhi, Surat, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai have benefited from these measures and initiatives in the form of reduced non-revenue water, increase in the number of metered connections, greater use of treated wastewater and strengthening of ULBs.
Rainwater harvesting structures
One of the traditional yet most effective measures of water management is RWH. The Ministry of Water Resources, River Develop-ment and Ganga Rejuvenation is focusing on the decentralisation of the RWH campaign to create more awareness among the general public. Over the past few years, city corporations have passed various regulations to make sure that RWH is undertaken on a large scale at the community level.
In August 2019, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) made it mandatory for all properties with an area of 100 square metres and above to have functional RWH systems. The DJB has amended the Delhi Water and Sewer (Tariff and Metering) Regulations, 2012, to include this provision. Besides, it has also made wastewater recycling mandatory for bulk users on the new properties. The board has directed all the properties built after the cut-off date of July 28, 2001 to install water harvesting systems by March 31, 2020. Meanwhile, older houses have been given one year’s time from the date of the public notice to comply. In case of failure to do so, the DJB has decided to levy penalties amounting to 1.5 times the water bill generated. Further, it has decided to sanction no new water and sewer connections to plots that have an area of 500 square metres and above without the installation of a functional RWH system.
Further, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has decided to come up with a policy to make it mandatory for all establishments measuring 2,400 square feet and above to use harvested rainwater for various non-potable purposes. The water board’s old
regulations do not specify the end use of collected water and therefore are not effective in bringing down the city’s dependence on fresh water from the Cauvery river. The water board has also decided to levy heavy penalties on defaulters. It plans to either reduce the water supply or impose a fine of 50 per cent of the total water bill.
Besides, the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) has stopped granting building permissions for a roof area of over 200 square feet without the installation of an RWH system. It is also offering a rebate of 6.25 per cent in property tax for the installation of these systems to recharge groundwater. To this effect, the IMC is also undertaking public awareness campaigns as it aims for Indore to become the city with the highest number of RWH system installations.
In December 2019, the Bhubaneswar Dev-elopment Authority (BDA) and the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) ordered the installation of RWH systems within a time period of six months for all buildings constructed under the jurisdiction of the BMC and the BDA with an area of 300 square metres and above. The two authorities have decided to not issue occupancy certificates to developers who fail to follow the norm. In 2015, the Odisha government had decided to implement a new scheme on a pilot basis for rooftop RWH and groundwater recharge in urban areas at an investment of Rs 1 billion. The scheme aimed at promoting groundwater recharge, increasing the water table and improving water quality in the urban areas.
The West Bengal government is also contemplating making RWH mandatory in order to deal with the drinking water crisis in the state. In Kolkata, the Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation has been developing RWH and wastewater recycling units in New Town. It aims to encourage the use of harvested water for non-potable uses in commercial and other establishments.
Smart water meters
Smart water meters have been gaining traction as an effective means of ensuring the judicious use of water. Unlike the conventional water meters, smart water meters measure individual consumption at a metering point and convey the data to the central server on a real-time basis.
Against the backdrop of its worst water crisis, the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) has already started installing digital water meters with automated meter reading (AMR) in commercial properties across the city. As of February 2020, it had provided AMR meters to around 5,300 commercial properties including hotels, industries and educational institutions. The water board plans to provide these meters to all the 12,000 identified properties at the earliest. The software being developed for automated reading will enable monitoring of water meters from the board’s offices. The CMWSSB plans to identify other commercial establishments and perhaps domestic consumers as well for the installation of smart meters in the second phase. The project is being implemented under the Smart Cities Mission at an estimated cost of Rs 95 million. The water board aims to bring about an attitudinal change among consumers by charging them on the basis of their actual water consumption.
In another development, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) is planning to install smart meters and leak detection systems at SRT Colony in the Sanathnagarconstituency. Under a pilot project, the board will install these systems in the colony at a cost of Rs 3.9 million. This is expected to help HMWSSB in reducing non-revenue water in the area. Besides, it also plans to provide geographic information system mapping of pipe-
lines in the constituency. The HMWSSB believes that the pilot project will serve as a standard model for other cities across the country.
The BWSSB is framing a policy to make it mandatory for all new and existing buildings in Bengaluru to install smart water meters on their premises. This will enable the water board to charge individuals on the basis of their water usage instead of the current practice wherein all the residents of a building pay an equal share of the water bill. It will make sure that the people who use water judiciously are not charged unfairly. In order to incentivise people to conserve water, the BWSSB has also decided to recognise the efforts of people on World Water Day 2020. It will reward individuals and institutions with the Bangalore JalaRushi Award for their contribution to water conservation under different categories such as apartment complexes, individual houses, educational buildings, industrial set-ups, hostels and government offices.
Chandigarh Smart City Limited is planning to call a combined tender for its 24×7 water supply project and smart water meter project. It has taken this decision based on the successful Nagpur model wherein the city authorities have successfully implemented the two projects together, significantly reducing the losses from non-revenue water. Chandigarh’s smart water meter project and 24×7 water supply project are estimated to cost about Rs 200 million and Rs 1.4 billion respectively.
The way ahead
Water utilities across the country have taken a number of measures to ensure judicious use of the already depleting freshwater resources and encourage use of recycled wastewater. However, while ULBs are taking measures to keep a check on the exploitation of water resources and dev-elop sustainable water infrastructure, it is equally important to hold citizens accountable by imposing stringent penalties on defaulters. Besides, deploying advanced technologies and solutions for monitoring and maintaining assets is equally important to guarantee optimal utilisation and better planning for the future.