To improve revenue collection and operational transparency, the Municipal Corporation Chandigarh (MCC) has been taking initiatives to streamline the billing process and for efficient recovery of water bills. The civic agency has taken steps such as setting up citizen facilitation centres (e-Sampark); conducting special drives for disconnecting the water connections of defaulters; developing an online complaint redressal system and a management information system (MIS) for water billing; and reconciliation of water billing data for identifying outstanding payments and defaulters.
At present, MCC incurs huge expenses on its water operations, while revenue collection remains low due to illegal connections and non-payment of water bills. Moreover, the civic agency is recording losses due to increasing power costs. Currently, the city has 150,000 registered water connections including residential, commercial and institutional users. Every year, it pays more than Rs 700 million in electricity charges for pumping water into the city. Against this, the revenue generated from water tariffs is estimated at Rs 650 million. The civic body spends over 75 per cent of the investment allocated for maintenance of its systems on payment of electricity bills.
Management information system
One of the biggest initiatives taken to improve revenue collection is the development of an MIS to effectively manage water consumption data and enhance transparency in the billing and collection process. The new system was introduced in August 2013 with a long-term objective to replace the manual billing process with an advanced digitised billing process. It has been designed and developed by the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIELIT). MCC has also signed an MoU with the Directorate of Telecommunication for operating the system.
Under this system, consumers can receive the details for outstanding bills along with the due date of payment through SMS and email as and when a bill is generated. To avail of the service, consumers are required to register their mobile number and email address on MCC’s official website. Consumers can submit their meter readings online and update their personal details. The system sends SMS alerts to the registered mobile number as reminders about the payment of outstanding water bills. Further, the MIS provides customer information related to the tariff structure for the domestic, industrial, commercial and institutional consumer categories; water bill calculation; and the procedure for lodging complaints for defective water meters and other water connection-related issues. Consumers can also access MIS reports related to the defaulters’ list, the monthly revenue generated, the tariff structure, consumption, the number of consumers under various tariff categories, history of payment of a particular consumer, etc. Also, a web-based resource centre has been created, wherein information related to water by-laws, water conservation tips, the procedure for checking water leakage, water connection forms, etc. are uploaded by MCC officials.
For consumers who do not have access to the internet, the civic agency dispatches hard copies of water bills through post. A duplicate copy of the same duly signed by the consumers along with their mobile numbers is sent back to MCC for future reference. These consumers can pay their water bills at the nearest e-Sampark centre by showing the water bill or the SMS. At present, there are 12 e-Sampark centres in the city.
Advantages and the way ahead
The online system has resulted in greater customer satisfaction by reducing the possibilities of human error in the billing process. Further, availability of up-to-date records of water use (latest readings) and supporting documents ensures that consumers receive water bills based on actual consumption instead of the average bill, which is generated without meter reading. Instances of non-payment of bill due to delays in receipt/non-receipt of its hard copy have reduced as consumers now receive bill alerts through SMS and email. Nonetheless, the system is fairly recent, and is yet to make any significant impact on the billing process and revenue collection.
Going forward, MCC plans to revamp its IT system to improve operational efficiency. It would integrate all e-governance modules to form a centralised and connected system. At present, computerisation of civic services is undertaken in different modules, which are not interlinked. Centralisation of various modules will not only help the civic agency in delivering services online but will also improve responsiveness to local needs. In addition, it will expand the scope for other technological initiatives to improve the customer interface. N