New Delhi: Efficiency in delivering services is one of the arguments made in favour of the increased focus on urbanization. But it is a hard argument to make when a state utility does not even know how much water flows into the city, let alone plug leaks that lead to an astounding 47% of water pumped from collection points in other states not being put to use. Part 2 of a three-part series.
The Capital’s state-owned water supply utility, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), has a leakage and loss rate of 47%. But to plug a leak, the first step is to know where it is.
According to responses received from DJB under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the utility does not have any bulk water meters at the six major points it received water from.
Archaic system: Street children taking water from DJB’s tanker in the Ranjit Singh flyover area, New Delhi. Lack of metering, illegal connections and illegitimate use worsen the problem of ageing pipelines. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“Their RTI reply said that the water that daily flows into Delhi is measured by a weir system, which is archaic. Moreover, bulk meters at input and output points at DJB’s water treatment plants have been defunct for five years,” said Arvind Kejriwal, who received the RTI, replied.
“You don’t even know what or where the problem is, you don’t even have estimates on how much water is treated or distributed daily. There is absolutely no accountability. The problem is not of shortage at all but of management,” said Kejriwal, who also spearheads Parivartan, a citizens’ movement for transparency and accountability in governance through RTI.
In an emailed response to questions, DJB said the 47% referred to non-revenue water (NRW), or water for which the utility did not generate revenue.
“Water lost due to leakages in the conveyance system accounts for 10-15% and the balance is water which is consumed in the city but does not generate revenue for DJB,” the reply said. “The NRW can be accounted for by the fact that 35% of the city’s population is living in unauthorized habitations, slums,...where drinking water needs are met through free tanker service, tube-wells, water hydrants and deep-bore hand pumps. Apart from the above, up to 6 kilolitres is supplied to the consumers but is not billed in real terms as per the existing tariff structure.”
The utility is conducting a water audit by installing bulk flow meters on the distribution network. “It will take a year. Then we will have exact accounting,” chief executive officer Ramesh Negi said.
Lack of metering, illegal connections and illegitimate use worsen the problem of ageing pipelines. A 2007 study on the performance of Indian water utilities by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which was conducted to benchmark urban projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, said: “Metering is a critical component for determining unaccounted for water... Only Coimbatore claims to have both production and service connections fully metered. Bangalore and Mumbai have fully production metering but consumption metering are 95.5% and 75%, respectively, whereas four other utilities have fully metered production but virtually nil to only 40% consumption metering. 100% metering of production and consumption, repair of visible leaks, elimination of illegal connections, and identification and repair of invisible leaks are critical.”
New Delhi, by contrast, has meters at production and consumption points but most of these are defunct. “Delhi and Faridabad have meters but most of them don’t work for the simple reason that you must have a continuous water supply for them to work. Currently it is intermittent for a few hours in a day. Billing is only on estimates of previous bills and averages,” said R.K. Srinivasan, coordinator, city water and waste management unit at Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization.
The ADB report said the Bhopal, Jabalpur, Mathura and Varanasi utilities have no metering at all. “For Indian water utilities, this is perhaps the single most important area requiring improvement,” it said.
Hundred per cent metering also ensures accurate billing and tariff collection. Very few of Indian utilities, such as those in Chennai, Mumbai, Jamshedpur, Nagpur, Visakhapatnam, Bangalore and Coimbatore, manage to cover their operation and maintenance costs from revenue from tariff.
Compared with expenses of Rs1,209.27 crore, DJB recovered only Rs564.91 crore from revenue. The Kolkata water utility does not even charge domestic users, resulting in a high operating ratio.
But metering and pricing uniformly also bring the issues of distribution and equity to the forefront. Community taps in public areas, mostly urban slums and unauthorized colonies, are responsible for most unaccounted for water, according to the ADB study. But then, there is also the question of who pays more and for how much.
“Why do we pay taxes? Providing water is critical. The government has to decide who gets water at what price. That’s not a subsidy but a responsibility,” said Kejriwal.
Part 3 will focus on equity and distribution in a Delhi neighbourhood.