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Chennai metrowater under financial strain

A few months from now, the second desalination plant in Nemmeli will start supplying water to the city, and Chennai Metrowater will incur huge expenses in buying it — placing massive financial stress on an agency already burdened by revenue deficits for over six years now.

In the last fiscal year alone, the difference between the water agency’s income and expenditure was nearly Rs. 100 crore. One major reason? The water tariff in the city has not been revised for nearly 15 years.

Given their limited funds for maintaining infrastructure, the quality of service provided by the water agency is bound to take a beating — a fact, residents complain about constantly

Globally, consumers who receive uninterrupted water service, pay for their amount of usage. It is evident that the city lacks a proper water pricing policy, as a heavy volume user of water often pays the same charges as his neighbour, whose consumption is much less.

When the government in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, decided to revise the water tariff, they collected information on how much people paid for private water supply and their willingness and capacity to pay a higher tariff. The water department then ensured that consumers received a reliable supply of better quality water before they hiked the tariff.

Chennai Metrowater could adopt its own set of strategies to sustain maintenance. One immediate way to pump in more funds would be to revise the flat rate for water supply. First, consumers who use water in bulk volumes could be identified and a nominal price hike could be levied there.
It is far easier for consumers to deal with a gradual and nominal price hike than a sudden huge increase.

Many residents often complain about the discrepancy in the levying of water charges. While currently installation of a water meter is mandatory fir those who apply for water connections, many existing consumers continue to pay negligible amounts for the same level of consumption.

Several people shell out nearly Rs. 1,000 to buy a tanker-load of 9,000-12,000 litres from private suppliers that hardly lasts a fortnight, whereas sumps are filled a number of times by Metrowater in a month for just Rs. 50.

Five years ago, pressured by conditions laid down for funding new projects, the water agency haphazardly tried to bring in the metered system. But it evoked stiff protests from residents for various reasons ranging from a lack of devices, faulty meters, inaccurate readings as the meters were fixed three feet below the ground and frequent damage. After that there has been a lull in implementing the system.

However, other cities have put such a system in place successfully. Both Hyderabad and Bengaluru have the metered system to bring down the consumption and decrease wastage. Copenhagen boasts of having saved nearly 26 per cent on water consumption in six years after installing water meters.
Singapore shows the way to preserve water resources and encourages users to conserve water by billing them for what they consume. However, low income groups are provided rebates.

In Bengaluru, meters are fixed on an elevated surface for easy reading. Meters get replaced every few years in several cities to prevent inaccuracies.

While it is necessary for Metrowater to learn from its past blunders before re-introducing the metered system that it has been mulling over for some years, it must first ensure continuous water supply for definite hours with adequate water pressure. Pricing according to each user’s consumption would not only bring down wastage, but also help in saving the vital resource.

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