The role of IT in urban governance is gathering increasing importance, particularly as the rise in consumer numbers puts pressure on urban local bodies (ULBs). Over the years, the scope of e-governance has expanded beyond basic information tools to an interactive database involving citizen engagement and participation in governance. With regard to municipal services, IT has been instrumental in improving the delivery of civic services, the management of resources, and enhancing customer information.
Since the mid-2000s, the central government has taken several steps to encourage the implementation of e-governance across the country. Through its flagship programme, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), e-governance modules for online birth and death registration, grievance redressal, project management information, and online utility information have been implemented in more than 50 per cent of the 65 Mission Cities. Prior to this, the use of IT solutions had been confined to the development of a website to ease consumer access.
At the state level, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have initiated small-scale e-governance reforms that focus on core services. Over the past decade or so, piped water has been made accessible to over 70 per cent of the urban population. These states have managed to improve their oper-ational performance and service delivery by reducing water wastage, enhancing water quality, rehabilitating infrastructure, and improving customer satisfaction. Big cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai have also adopted innovative approaches like advanced web- and SMS-based IT solutions for grievance redressal, global positioning systems (GPS) for tracking water supply vehicles, online bill payment, automated meters, and monitoring systems for detecting hidden leakages.
Smart Utilities presents a snapshot of the key IT initiatives taken by ULBs as well as the central and state governments over the past year to upgrade their information systems, enhance transparency and improve service delivery.
Installation of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems: ULBs in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Thiruvananthapuram and Vijayawada have deployed SCADA systems for monitoring and regulating water supply and sewerage networks.
Development of web- or SMS-based complaint redressal systems: The Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board has launched a centralised control-cum-response centre for registering complaints related to water supply and sewerage services. Online complaint redressal systems have also been launched by several ULBs in Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Pune, Chennai and Chandigarh. These systems use the internet, helplines and mobile technology to register complaints.
Adoption of new cost-effective technologies and solutions to improve access to potable water: The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and the Guwahati Municipal Corporation have installed low-cost ATM machines to provide treated water in areas not covered by the pipeline network. These ATM machines use reverse osmosis (RO) technology to convert raw water into potable water and operate through prepaid smart cards. ULBs in Delhi, Bhopal and Kochi have also set up small-scale RO plants to manufacture bottled water for drinking purposes.
Advanced technologies for monitoring water leakages and improving water supply: Cities like Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru and Delhi have deployed advanced technologies to detect leakages in their water pipeline networks. The water utility in Bengaluru has installed acoustic sensors near water meters to detect hidden leakages, while the Kerala Water Authority is installing sensors and intelligent meters for the same purpose. DJB has also constituted special squads equipped with advanced equipment and gadgets. The utility has developed a geographic information system to map areas prone to hidden and surface leakages.
Deployment of GPS-enabled devices to track the movement of water tankers: Utilities in Delhi and Hyderabad have installed GPS-enabled devices to track the real-time movement of water supply tankers, for which the software is being developed by a private consultant. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is also planning to install GPS systems on its fleet of water tankers and jetting machines.
Provision of online bill payment services: Civic agencies like the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board have launched web-based billing and payment systems to reduce customer servicing costs, and improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. In addition, MCGM and BWSSB have launched mobile applications, like Karnataka One, which enable residents to pay bills through their mobile phones.
Focus on urban governance and information
dissemination to consumers: The central government has developed dedicated websites for efficiently monitoring infrastructure projects and providing data regarding fund sanctions for new programmes and schemes like the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), the Swachh Bharat Mission and the Smart Cities programme.
At the local level, ULBs are undertaking initiatives to improve urban governance through improved information dissemination. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has established a dedicated project management unit to develop an integrated framework for e-governance. The unit has launched a mobile application to register consumer complaints about municipal services. Consumers can now lodge their complaints through a dedicated WhatsApp number or via Facebook or Twitter. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is also developing a new website under the National E-Governance Programme. On the website, every citizen will be able to create his/her profile, access information pertaining to civic services, register his/her mobile number and email address, and pay civic charges through a single login identity.
Municipal corporations in Coimbatore, Mangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad have also started sending water bills and payment alerts to consumers on their registered mobile numbers.
Metering and billing: A few big cities are taking steps to improve metering and billing. Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, for instance, are installing automated meter reading systems to improve revenue collection and reduce losses.
The way forward
One of the biggest challenges being faced by ULBs is the lack of accurate and reliable information about basic infrastructure facilities and the consumer base. Moreover, limited water resources, along with the growing population and increasing wastage levels, has put tremendous pressure on the capacities of ULBs and para-statals. As a result, they are struggling to upgrade their networks and keep up with demand.
Another major cause of concern is the lack of skilled manpower and technical support for implementing IT solutions. Despite the JNNURM’s help in mobilising funds for IT projects, ULBs have been facing several difficulties in ensuring the proper operations and maintenance of advanced systems due to the lack of technical support.
Constant efforts are being made by the central and state governments to improve the capacities of ULBs and provide assistance in project implementation. The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) has initiated the Capacity Building Project for Urban Development for the institutional strengthening of ULBs. The MoUD recently decided to empanel agencies that can provide technical support to states and ULBs for implementing projects, conducting studies and imparting training in the fields of water supply and sanitation. These steps are expected to expand the scope of other technological initiatives taken to improve the customer interface.
To deal with the high levels of non-revenue water caused by leakages and thefts, and the increasing cost of freshwater treatment, large-scale initiatives are expected for improving the operational performance of ULBs. Meanwhile, the launch of new government programmes like Smart Cities, AMRUT and Digital India is likely to lead to the introduction of more advanced technologies and IT solutions.
In the long run, these initiatives are expected to strengthen municipal capacity and enable the effective delivery of services.