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Vijaywada becomes first Indian city to guarantee water for all

Feb 11, 2011

Vijayawada has become India’s first city to ensure universal access to treated water, a distinction yet to be achieved by metropolitan cities. Concerted efforts to use water rationally, cut waste, and provide connections at moderate rates at the consumer’s doorstep has also earned Vijayawada Municipal Corporationa a National Urban Water Awards for 2009-10.

Vijayawada has become the first city in the country to have universal access to treated water. Every household in Andhra Pradesh’s third largest city now receives water. Vijayawada has a population of 10 lakh, spread over 58 sq km, with approximately 263,973 people living in slums.

The water project was implemented under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). It began with a pilot study conducted by the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) three years ago which provided vital information on parameters such as flow, overflow, leaks, chlorine levels, etc. Most cities simply do not have reliable information on such parameters and therefore cannot gauge how well their utilities are working, a report of the National Institute of Urban Affairs has said.

The Vijayawada study found that overflow from reservoirs accounted for wastage of around 4,700 kilolitres of purified water, while about 13,138 kilolitres of purified water leaked out during a month of observation. The main problems identified were incomplete closing of valves, absence of timely maintenance of valves, and absence of an alarm system that would alert officials.

An astonishing 45% of water was unaccounted for, meaning it ended up as leaks and overflows. These loopholes were plugged by a system of real-time monitoring and control of the water distribution system. An online database collects data from sites, processes, validates, and sends it to a central unit. Alarms have been set up to alert officials about reservoir overflows, and problems are relayed to ground staff via SMS for quick repairs. As a result of these measures, overflows have been brought down to almost nil and unaccounted for water brought down from 40% to 16%.

To encourage people to get connections, the price of connections was rationalised. The VMC offered connections at Rs 2,500 to households with a Rs 175-300 property tax limit, and a further 25% discount on the same. Later, the corporation slashed the fee to just Rs 200 per connection, and also offered to bear the expenses incurred on water pipes, etc. One of the problems encountered was applicants not having property tax assessments.

Connections were given on demand at the customer’s doorstep within 48 hours of payment of a connection charge. According the VMC, within seven months the number of connections increased by 14% in APL (above the poverty line) households and by 50% in BPL (below the poverty line) households (7,460 new BPL connections in four months, against 4,127 in five years until March 2006).

The VMC’s own revenues have shot up; it collected revenues of around Rs 1.14 crore towards connection charges. It is expected that revenue through monthly tariffs will be around Rs 61 lakh per year. 

The VMC won the National Urban Water Award 2009-10. The citation points out the benefits to poor women from access to water. ‘Accounting for a woman’s time spent in collecting water, the average cost per kilolitre of water declined from Rs 52 to Rs 6, once the household enjoyed an in-house water connection. With families depending far less on public stand posts, there has been a significant reduction in non-revenue water, which has boosted the revenue of the municipal corporation.’

The website of the National Urban Water Award points out that providing additional water connections to households, based on the existing network, “is not a complex task and does not require major investments… With effective monitoring and teamwork, such an initiative is sustainable as the marginal costs are very low while the returns are high. In addition, returns on health and hygiene, saving of time for the poor, etc, are very high”.

Source : Inforchange
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