For decades, Ekadashi Sakre, 43, and her family of five struggled for drinking water. Her house in Nagpur's Ekatmata Nagar had a water pipe, but no water came from the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC). A local contractor would supply water to the locality from a well through municipal pipes, but the water was not potable. Worse: it was available once in eight days.
About three months ago, NMC started water supply to the entire area as part of its 24x7 project. Today, the Sakre family gets potable water for about 1.5 hours every day; corporation officials say the duration will increase. While the cost of water has risen sharply for Sakre - from `30 per month to about Rs 450 a month - she's not complaining.
The 24x7 water project is perhaps the only operational water project in the country. Similar projects were taken up in places such as Aurangabad, Jaipur and Bhagalpur, but without much success.
The Nagpur project was not easy to implement either. Back in 2011, when the Central government was funding projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), NMC was supplying 575 million litres a day (MLD) of treated water, of which only 175 MLD was billed and paid for. In addition, NMC's non-revenue water (NRW) - which is lost before reaching the consumer - stood at 65 per cent.
The corporation started with a pilot project in Dharampet with about 15,000 citizens. "We identified leakages and replaced house connections. It took almost two years for the results to show up," says Sanjay Gaikwad, Executive Director, Nagpur Environmental Services (NESL), a wholly- owned subsidiary of NMC and one of the partners in the 24x7 project. The other two partners were NMC and Orange City Water Limited (OCWL), a private entity that is running the project.
The positive results from the pilot prompted NMC to take the project to city-level. "When we took over in March 2012, some areas were getting round-the-clock water, some six to eight hours a day, some on alternate days, and some areas not a drop," says Sanjoy Roy, CEO, OCWL. Several areas were targeted simultaneously. Leakage was a big issue. In the past four years, nearly 550 km of the city's 600 km of iron pipelines was replaced. So were 1.35 lakh house service connections (HSCs) of the total 3.25 lakh connections. HSCs connect the main pipeline to meters at homes. OCWL replaced old pipes with medium-density polyethylene pipes which are less prone to leakages
"We gave operations and management to the private sector because their work efficiency is better," says Gaikwad. OCWL's involvement has resulted in lower burden for the corporation. When the project began, NMC had about 495 employees handling the water department. As the project progressed, majority of these people were shifted to other departments.
Now, the operator is installing electromagnetic flow meters on water tanks to keep track of water flowing from the reservoir to the tanks. So far, 85 such meters have been installed, while 175 more will be installed in the coming months. Today, OCWL handles water billing across Nagpur. OCWL innovated on customer care for faster relief, opening customer care centres in each of the city's 10 zones instead of having one centralised centre. "Each centre is a single point access where consumers can make enquiries," says Roy. The corporation undertook a parallel project - Pench 4 - to increase the availability of water in the treatment plant. Nagpur draws water from Pench river, over 40 km away. Earlier, the water used to come via canal, which has been replaced with a closed pipeline.
The results are clear. NRW has gone down to 55 per cent. The target is to take it down to 25 per cent over the next few years. About 150 areas where water supply was non-existent have benefitted. In addition, 81 areas where water supply came on alternate days are getting water every day.
Initially, the project's cost was divided - 70 per cent was borne by government (Centre and state ) under JNNURM, the remaining share of ULB (urban local body) was by OCWL. Under the PPP model, the objective was to provide 24-hour safe drinking water to the entire population within five years. But the target will likely be missed due to funding issues and hiccups in execution on account of resistance from people. The project hit a roadblock briefly when JNNURM ended in 2012. The NMC applied for funding under AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation), but it didn't qualify because NMC was not able to invest more than 50 per cent of the total project work as on March 2014. Now, NMC is taking care of funding. OCWL says it will continue to work for the full term of the contract - 25 years. ~