An Interactive Session on “Urban Water Services – The Need for Reform” was held on 5th October, 2006 at 11.00 AM at Bangalore International Centre. Shri Anand K Jalakam, Project Development Specialist, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) led the Discussion through a Power Point presentation.
Shri K Jairaj, Commissioner, Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, presided over the discussion. Dr A Ramachandran, President of the Centre was also present. Mr P R Dasgupta, Director of the Centre introduced Shri. Anand Jalakam.
Various top officers from Government of Karnataka participated in the Discussion apart from the members from the Bangalore International Centre.
Shri Jalakam in his hour long presentation deliberated about the situation of water supply and utility in Indian cities, the issues involved, strategies etc.
Shri Jalakam structured his presentation by elaborating on the basic realities of Urban India, the models of water utility, urban water issues and reform strategies. He pointed out that according to the 2001 census, the population of India was 1027 million of which the urban population was 285 million, (approximately 28% of the population) living in 921 Class I & II cities and 4230 other cities, which was expected to grow to 1350 million, with an urban population of 459 million (approximately 34% of the population) by 2021. This then was the magnitude of the needs to be satisfied which one must plan for. Coming down to the model of a typical water utility, there are three major activities involved – (a) Bulk activity involving water intake, treatment and pumping, (b) Warehousing, involving storage and transmission, and (c) Retail activities, involving distribution and billing to and collection from customers. The reverse cycle comprises of sewerage collection network; sewage offtake, transmission, treatment and discharge; and recycle to the bulk activity of water intake, treatment and pumping. Shri Jalakam stressed that these activities are currently being managed with very low level of efficiency in most of the cities. Taking a typical case study conducted in 4 cities in Karnataka he stated that whereas the plant capacity was 360 MLD, what was put into the pipe line was 270 MLD. The distribution and transmission leakages and losses resulted in 160 MLD supplied at the taps of which only 80 MLD fetched revenue, and that too at a very low tariff. Thus the revenue collected was only at the level of 22% of its actual potential. Elaborating on water balance for a typical city Shri Jalakam pointed out that water supply was inadequate, intermittent and of poor quality. While low tariffs have made the provision of services largely untenable, the low coverage and poor quality of water has led a large number of people to explore alternatives with much higher coping costs. The existing plumbing practices are poor and ill-planned. Similarly the practice of repairing leaks is antiquated and hazardous to health. Quite naturally the water pressure is low in most of the places. This hits the urban poor much more than those who are in a comparatively more comfortable economic condition. Highlighting the major urban water service issues like inadequate supply, high losses, low tariff and low cost recovery, Shri Jalakam lamented the fact that there was almost a total absence of regulations and regulatory bodies, excepting in the field of pollution control of water to be discharged after use. He also expressed his surprise that there was hardly any corporate planning in such a key area. Most of the key management staff are on deputation and are on transit, so to say. The permanent staff are at a lower level. The line staff are mostly semi-literate and ageing. As Mr. Jalakam put it, the water works in the cities are managed by valve-operators and not be Engineers who are constantly on the move.
What then are the remedies? Shri Jalakam urged for comprehensive regulations, starting with total accountability in service delivery, laying down service level standards, tariff reforms, performance measurement and monitoring and in-country benchmarking for efficiency in service delivery as well as cost-recovery. He further suggested institutional reforms, like introducing commercial organization structure, combining responsibility and accountability, developing a customer-friendly focus, training and upgrading skills, outsourcing and encouraging the Private Sector to enter the area. The technical reforms suggested by him were improving the system of measurement and control, upgrading the information systems, introducing better and longlasting piping solutions, controlling non-revenue supply of water and introducing vendor development. He felt that time had come to consider the right to have drinking water as a fundamental right through a constitutional amendment. Other legislative measures suggested by him included regulations to control indiscriminate use of ground water, prosecution and penalties against pilferage and/or willful damage and compulsory water conservation measures, like rain-water harvesting and waste recycle.
The presentation was followed by a lively discussion in which there was a general endorsement to the propositions suggested by Shri Jalakam. The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by the Director of BIC, Shri P R Dasgupta.