India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and its water and wastewater sector is undergoing a massive transformation. The government has actively increased investments and undertaken initiatives to meet the basic requirement – to ensure piped water supply to every household in the country. It has pledged an investment of over Rs 6 trillion in the water and sanitation sector. These sustained investments, along with a “mission-mode” monitoring and implementation, have led to about 110 million new water supply connections being provided under various government schemes, in both rural and urban areas, over the past few years. The government’s significant investments in the sector are fuelling demand for water supply pipelines and allied infrastructure across the country.
Infrastructure development under government programmes
One of the major initiatives of the government is the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), which aims to provide a functional tap connection to every rural household in the country. The mission focuses on providing universal piped water supply, empowering local “Pani Samitis”, improving grievance redressal systems and providing water infrastructure in schools and anganwadi centres. A huge number of projects related to multi-village schemes, water supply action plans, and components such as transmission lines, distribution lines and treatment/storage/ pumping infrastructure, are being implemented across India.
Another flagship initiative is the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) 2.0, India’s largest urban transformation mission, which aims to provide universal coverage and improve the quality and efficiency of water supply and sanitation in urban areas. Further, AMRUT 2.0 is focusing on thematic areas such as involving women and the youth in the operations and maintenance (O&M) of water supply, 24×7 water supply with drink-from-tap facility, reduction of non-revenue water (NRW), and smart solutions such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).
The Government of India has committed about Rs 3.5 trillion to the JJM and about Rs 2.7 trillion to AMRUT 2.0. This is creating a huge demand for pipes and pipe appurtenances made of different materials such as iron (cast iron, ductile iron, galvanised iron), steel, cement (asbestos cement, reinforced cement concrete, portland slag cement) and plastic (UPVC, OPVC, CPVC, polyethylene, HDPE, MDPE, GRP, etc.).
To reduce water loss and optimise drinking water distribution, the full value cycle needs to be considered, from diagnosis to efficient management of leaks and assets, and billing.
Water pipeline infrastructure in India is very context-specific due to the country’s diverse geography. Infrastructure provision considerations vary as per the requirements of the region. In colder regions such as Leh, the freezing risk for pipelines is high; excessive pore water pressure may deform or collapse pipes. In hilly regions such as Himachal Pradesh, gradual erosion of earth cover over pipelines laid on hilly slopes is common. Pressure management in hilly areas is highly challenging, as the service reservoir (SR) needs to be situated at a higher level and there might be a large elevation difference between the SR and the consumer location at the bottom. A specialised solution for each context is the key to success in any water pipeline infrastructure project.
Rapid urbanisation and economic development are also putting increasing pressure on water resources and water distribution infrastructure. Moreover, water infrastructure and utilities face a common set of problems such as ageing water networks and customers’ rising expectations for better services. However, most departments/agencies in charge of water supply do not have a coherent strategy to address these challenges or a vision for the future. Therefore, despite significant investments and concerted efforts, on-ground challenges persist, impacting the quality and efficiency of water supply pipeline infrastructure. There are plenty of instances where the existing pipelines are past their serviceable life and are faulty; maintenance is only carried out reactively; the water pressure is low; the valves, joints and fitting are leaky; dirty and contaminated water is siphoned back etc. Moreover, there is a lack of a holistic planning approach that considers the long-term sustainability and resilience of the water systems.
The O&M of water infrastructure is also constrained by the fact that in India, water supply is still viewed as a social responsibility, thereby drastically reducing the chances of providing it through a commercially viable model, or implementing any reforms related to tariff. These challenges impact service delivery to citizens and cause issues such as unreliable water supply, delayed repairs, suboptimal customer service, water quality issues, inequitable distribution, and low pressure/no water at the tail end.
Therefore, there is a need to create quality infrastructure while enabling efficient operations, implementing robust O&M policies, increasing resilience to climate change events and leveraging digital solutions to resolve these problems.
There is a need to manage the water network by monitoring flow and water quality in real time, and implementing and operating pressure management efficiently to match actual needs with specific pressure regulation valves linked to the central management information system.
Some state governments have significantly expanded the coverage of water supply pipelines and are now focusing on improving the efficiency of water supply and the pipeline infrastructure. For example, Gujarat is implementing a pilot project for bulk flow meters and quality analysers across the state. This will enable them to monitor the water supply pipeline infrastructure in real time through a comprehensive dashboard displaying key performance indicators and spatial maps. Additionally, they are taking measures such as prioritising preventive maintenance, and shifting to performance-based payment incentives. The state of Odisha has also shown an effective way to switch from intermittent water supply to a 24×7 drink-from-tap water supply system, through its project in the city of Puri.
The way forward
Going ahead, the governments/water agencies should prioritise water network renewal and rehabilitation, optimise medium- and long-term investment, and put in place a preventive maintenance plan that prolongs the life of the network and preserves assets. They should also leverage digital tools effectively to monitor networks, increase their efficiency and performance, optimise the management of flow in real time, and make decisions based on data. Moreover, there is a need to manage the water network by monitoring flow and water quality in real time, and implementing and operating pressure management efficiently, to match actual needs with specific pressure regulation valves linked to the central management information system. Further, to reduce loss and optimise drinking water distribution, one must consider the full value cycle from diagnosis to efficient management of leaks and assets, and billing. We need to adopt plans that implement tested solutions to optimise the performance of urban drinking water distribution networks.
All of this can be achieved if the governments/water agencies are ready to undergo a major change in their mindset, that is, shifting from being infrastructure providers to service providers. The shift can be achieved via initiatives such as improving service delivery through infrastructure design changes; digital interventions such as SCADA and metering; regular leak detection studies; reducing NRW; GIS-based asset mapping; mapping water pipeline ageing; and enhanced monitoring through internet of things-based solutions such as smart metering and artificial intelligence-based leak detection models. The process can be hastened if the governments/water agencies and the private sector join hands to draw on each other’s inherent strengths, promote innovation and create an environment that is favourable to such partnerships.
Governments and water agencies should prioritise water network renewal and rehabilitation, optimise medium- and long-term investment, and put in place a preventive maintenance plan that prolongs the life of the network and preserves assets.