The increasing demand for water and sanitation services due to the growing population has put pressure on urban local bodies (ULBs). In a bid to efficiently operate and manage their water and wastewater infrastructure, these civic bodies are now moving towards advanced technological tools and financial initiatives that enable them to operate more efficiently. Technologies such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, geographic information systems, satellite surveillance and remote sensors are being actively deployed by ULBs.
Over the past few years, ULBs have also increased private sector involvement in water network management. This has greatly improved service delivery and offered cheaper operations and maintenance of the existing infrastructure. Customers have also benefited from the participation of the private sector as they have now increased coverage, improved water quality and quicker redressal of complaints. Besides, customers in slum areas have gained from private sector participation as they have received water at their doorstep.
Many water utilities are also working towards increasing their metered networks to monitor water consumption, reduce water losses and increase revenue collection. The adoption of smart meters is also gaining traction in key Indian cities with high population. These meters are enabling utilities to charge users based on their actual consumption and in promoting water conservation. Further, ULBs are replacing water supply pipelines and manual meters and addressing leakages in pipeline networks as part of the 24×7 water supply projects. Major cities such as Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai have already started replacing old water supply pipelines and deploying smart meters in order to achieve round-the-clock water supply. The New Delhi Municipal Council has set a target for improving the quality of water services. These include providing 24×7 uninterrupted water supply, ensuring 100 per cent water supply coverage, reducing the non-revenue water (NRW) level to 20 per cent and ensuring 100 per cent metering of water connections.
As far as technological advancements are concerned, many cities across the country have started deploying digital tools for water network management. The Haryana government, in July 2021, launched “paperless billing” through SMS for Panchkula. Under this scheme, residents will get their bills through SMS. The water bill generation system has been launched for Panchkula and is expected to be scaled up across the state. The system would enable around 33,000 consumers in Panchkula to pay their bills digitally.
In March 2021, the district unit of the National Informatics Centre of Dhanbad developed a mobile app to resolve water supply-related problems. The Jal Drishti app aims to offer time-bound solutions to water supply-related issues faced by residents. The app establishes coordination between different water supply agencies such as the Dhanbad Municipal Corporation, the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department and the Jharkhand Mineral Area Development Authority. The app will ensure the registration of complaints regarding water supply and their timely redressal.
In December 2020, ABB agreed to provide digital water management solutions in Karnataka’s Koppal district. The project is being led by L&T Construction for the Karnataka government, and will be using ABB’s end-to-end solutions to help the local water authority to track, measure and optimise water use in the district. The solution includes 635 flowmeters and a SCADA system to monitor and analyse daily flow consumption patterns. It will also identify possible leaks and notify the central control room on a real-time basis.
The Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) has decided to install 300 water meters per month. The development came in light of HMWSSB’s efforts to accelerate free water supply of 20,000 litres per month. The free water supply scheme will only be extended to households with functional water meters. HMWSSB has also undertaken a number of smart initiatives to keep NRW levels low. The key ones are mapping the entire pipeline network and dividing it into hydraulic zones, mapping revenue generation docket-wise and matching supply dockets with revenue dockets, and auditing water use efficiency of households, among others. Besides, HMWSSB has engaged non-governmental organisations and undertaken door-to-door campaigns for spreading awareness about water conservation.
In May 2021, the Telangana government announced that calculation of groundwater in six districts will now be facilitated with modern technology. A digital water level record (DWLR) will be used to measure groundwater in six areas, selected as a pilot project. Groundwater will be measured for the first time in six areas with this approach. Earlier, groundwater department officials used to go to the area once a month to calculate the water level. DLWR
measures groundwater every six hours using technology that uploads it to a server over a network. Groundwater pressure, along with the groundwater level, is measured by temperature and barometric pressure. The project is being implemented by the National Hydrology Project in collaboration with the World Bank.
Further, in order to keep a check on the quality of water being supplied, the Jal Jeevan Mission partnered with the Indian Council of Medical Research and launched an online portal that enables users to get the quality of their drinking water tested through a network of 2,000 labs across the country. The online portal has been developed by leveraging the technical capacity built for Covid-19 testing and surveillance. The water quality information management system ensures that adverse test reports are automatically flagged up to state- and central-level authorities and corrective action is taken at the drinking water supply source.
Recently, there has been an increase in the involvement of the private sector as well as in water network management across major Indian cities. SUEZ is one such private player that has ventured into the water supply sector. The company has worked on various projects in cities such as Delhi, Coimbatore, Davanagere, Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Udupi and Puttur. In Delhi, the company has been able to increase its revenues from Rs 75.6 million in 2012 to
Rs 615.7 million in 2019. Further, it has added 51 per cent more connections and increased the volume billed by 67 per cent. It has also been successful in achieving less than 10 per cent NRW in areas with 24×7 water supply.
The water sector suffers from issues of inadequate funds with ULBs, lack of mapping of existing assets such as transmission lines and peripheral lines and low private interest and investment, among others. Given the existing service constraints, delivering acceptable levels of service in the water sector will require a multi-pronged effort. In this regard, ULBs will have to build financial and operational capacity, enforce strict regulations and attract adequate private sector participation. Going forward, the use of information technology for various aspects of water supply and wastewater management is expected to increase significantly.
ULBs are expected to enhance the adoption of innovative technologies and service delivery improvement mechanisms. Technology advancements are expected to play a vital role in ensuring efficient urban service delivery. In this regard, the private sector will act as a catalyst through its financial muscle and technological know-how.
So far, private entities have not received satisfactory returns on their investment in the urban water supply sector. Going forward, ULBs across the country are expected to formulate a holistic policy framework to promote greater involvement of the private sector in water supply management by ensuring better returns on their investments.