Move Towards Metering: Slow but increasing uptake

Slow but increasing uptake

Progress in water metering has been slow in most Indian cities and varies widely among them. While Delhi and Hyderabad are estimated to have 77 per cent and 59 per cent metered water connections respectively, Kolkata and Pune have almost negligible metering. Other cities like Nashik and Bengaluru have over 95 per cent metered water connections. The national average for metered water supply connections stands at around 16 per cent (Service Level Benchmark Status Report, 2010-11).

While water metering is at a lower level than desirable in most cities, there is clearly a move towards it. This is more apparent in larger metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. “Metering of water supply services has been introduced mainly in metropolitan cities and in other cities where projects have been implemented under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. In all other cities, the practice of metering is almost negligible,” says Pradipto Sarkar, senior non-revenue water (NRW) expert, NJS Consultants Company Limited.

Major metropolitan cities have also commenced installing advanced technology to strengthen their metering practices. These initiatives include installing flow meters in water supply pipelines and deploying automatic meter reading (AMR)-enabled meters to prevent tampering and reduce errors in calculation. For instance, the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) is installing high-precision flow meters at various points along the 64 km pipeline of the Nemelli desalination plant which has a capacity of 100 million litres per day. This will assist CMWSSB in monitoring the flow of water, plugging leakages and reducing the level of NRW. Prior to this, water collected at various points of the water distribution system could be measured, but the leakages during conveyance were not accounted for. The electromagnetic flow meters will transmit data related to water flow and leakages to 22 data transfer units through a telemetry system. This will be further integrated with a centralised matrix display system functioning at CMWSSB’s head office in order to enable real-time monitoring.

The Delhi Jal Board is planning to establish district metering areas (DMAs) to check transmission and distribution losses in its water supply network. The water board will install flow meters in the DMAs to monitor the amount of water flowing at the inlets and outlets of pipelines.

In Bengaluru, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has initiated a pilot project to curb meter tampering by installing AMR systems. Under this project, around 800 one-inch and above non-domestic connections in the southeast division will be fitted with such meters at an investment of Rs 18 million. They have SIM cards to record readings and emit radio frequency signals. The recordings will then be transmitted to BWSSB’s main server to assist officials in keeping track of the quantity of water that is consumed. In the future, BWSSB is also planning to install water meters for borewells in residential and commercial establishments.

Several factors are responsible for the low metering incidence in other cities and towns. The chief among these is the highly subsidised rate of water supply. Most cities and towns continue to charge a fixed rate for water consumption, thereby limiting the expansion of metering practices. Another key reason for the poor levels of metering adoption is the lack of financial resources and skilled human resources in urban local bodies (ULBs). Limited metering incidence has resulted in high NRW and low cost recovery, thereby worsening the already financially stressed condition of ULBs. In addition, the absence of metering leads to an indiscriminate exploitation of limited water resources.

In the past, traditional or mechanical meters were preferred for residential consumers while AMR-enabled systems were deemed more suitable for bulk and commercial consumers. This is because advanced metering solutions such as AMR-enabled systems are comparatively expensive and entail higher installation costs. However, of late, water utilities in Delhi, Mumbai, etc. have also begun installing AMR-enabled systems for residential consumers.

On the industry front, both domestic and global meter manufacturers and suppliers are active in the Indian water segment. Some of the active domestic players are Prince, Konarak, Border and RAHUL, while the established foreign players include US-based Itron, Israel’s Arad Group and Germany based-ZENNER. Typically, small-scale or mid-sized domestic players focus on providing traditional meters, while foreign players are largely involved in providing advanced technological solutions like AMR-enabled meters, global system for mobile communication (GSM)-based and general packet radio service (GPRS)-based meters and radio frequency identification water meters.

The government is also making efforts to promote metering. New government initiatives such as the 100 Smart Cities and the Rejuvenation of 500 Cities programmes will provide an impetus to the metering of urban services. For example, the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) has partnered with Microsoft India Private Limited to develop Surat into a smart city. The agencies are planning to develop technology infrastructure by introdu-cing process automation and IT-enabled citizen services. SMC plans to work with Microsoft and its partners, Iconics and SoftTech, to develop solutions for water management and urban planning, and metering water services is likely to form an important part of this scheme.

Tarun Narang, director, ZENNER Aquamet India Private Limited, says “Metering in India is likely to witness significant growth within the next 5-10 years.” The major impetus will come from new government programmes and the 24×7 water supply project. Water supply projects that are financed through multilateral agencies like the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Asian Development Bank typically include a performance target for improving the incidence of metering.

Going forward, concrete steps are required to improve metering levels, as well as to devise a mechanism for timely repair of non-functional and faulty meters. Pawan Mathur, director, water and heat sector, Itron, says, “The current issues pertaining to the slow deployment of metering devices due to the current norms, topography and lack of political will need to be addressed urgently.” Establishing a central regulatory authority to assist private players and ULBs by introducing a uniform metering policy, technical meter manufacturing guidelines, etc. would be a welcome step.

Overall, industry experts foresee a shift from the installation of traditional meters to AMR-enabled meters for residential connections in the next five to seven years. ULBs in states located in the western and southern regions are expected to take the lead in this regard.