Information and communication technology is being widely adopted by urban local bodies (ULBs) to ensure proper governance and provide better services to citizens. The use of technology in the management of water services has also increased. ULBs have introduced online portals for civic services and have deployed advanced treatment technologies for wastewater treatment, automation and instrumentation tools, as well as solutions for asset monitoring and maintenance. Many ULBs have moved to, or are in the process of moving to online access to services such as billing, payments and applying for new connections. ULBs have also adopted mobile applications (for both iOS and Android) that can be integrated with the hardware infrastructure.
Smart Utilities takes a look at some of the initiatives taken by the civic bodies and authorities to provide better e-governance and mobile governance in the water sector…
The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has progressively been taking steps towards the digital transformation of water services. The authority has undertaken initiatives to provide online facilities to its consumers. To this end, DJB has implemented a revenue management system (RMS) with facilities for viewing and printing the latest water bill, online payments, logging grievances and tracking the application status. This RMS is an end-to-end solution wherein the key idea is to digitalise access to a host of services in the form of consistent, cyclical and accurate billing, and minimal meter-to-bill and bill-to-cash cycles. By replacing offline billing with advanced online billing, and allowing the recording of real-time transactions at a central server, DJB has improved its billing accuracy and made the revenue collection process efficient.
As a more advanced and innovative step, DJB has launched a mobile app called “DJB mSeva” to provide greater convenience and services to consumers. It allows consumers to instantly self-generate their bills at any time, 24×7, besides providing facilities such as online payment and viewing and downloading of previous bills and payment receipts. The steps for registering on the app and self-generating bills are very simple, making the app easy-to-use and inclusive.
Big data and predictive analytics technologies have also been adopted by water utilities to create systems for monitoring and managing increasingly complex water distribution systems. Under such management systems, readings from various control and measuring systems installed across the city are transferred online to a centralised monitoring facility. The Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has adopted IBM’s predictive analysis technology to monitor the actual supply and usage of water. IBM has worked closely with BWSSB to create an operational dashboard based on IBM’s intelligent operations centre. BWSSB has also launched an android-based application, “MyComplaint”, through which people living in the BWSSB area can lodge grievances related to water timings, new connections, pipe damage, the sewerage system and water meters. BWSSB also allows customers to make online payments by logging on to its website.
Bengaluru is also using “WaterOn”, an app that allows individual households to keep track of water usage over 45 days and curb wastage. It enables customers to track their supply and consumption statistics and their average, lowest and highest consumption figures. Further, it also allows consumers to compare consumption figures.
In November 2020, Axis Bank partnered with BWSSB to help manage its various e-payment collections through digital and offline modes. An integrated payment solution was devised to help BWSSB authorities collect payments from its customers in a seamless and effective way. All BWSSB customers can now pay digitally through the Bharat Bill Payment System, BHIM UPI/QR codes, or by depositing cash/cheques/demand drafts at BWSSB kiosks. The initiative has been taken keeping in view the Indian government’s vision of a Digital India, and enables the ULB to build a smarter city.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has also introduced changes to its water billing software to make it more user friendly and inclusive. The upgraded version digitally calculates water consumption and allows civic officials to take on-the-spot readings. It has made the billing process more transparent by allowing citizens to verify a reading before the bill is generated. Further, the civic body has launched a portal called “MCGM GIS” (geographic information system), which gives an overall geographical view of the city on a map and allows users to check plot reservations, as well as the progress of road works and pipelines passing through a particular area. The developers can also access information about existing pipeline networks to avoid damaging them. Moreover, GIS technology helps in finding the exact location of faults in pipes, and is thus used to detect leakages.
In January 2021, the State Bank of India (SBI) introduced an option for online payment of water bills for people living in the Mangaluru City Corporation area. Residents can now pay their bills online through various modes of payment at any time. The facility can be accessed on both mobile phones and personal computers. Kanpur Smart City Limited (KSCL) has also launched an online service portal to increase the adoption of smart facilities across the city. Further, the civic agency has launched a mobile application on the Google Play Store to improve service delivery to its citizens. It allows citizens to pay water bills online. It also features various sections where complaints can be lodged. One of the unique features of the app is that the complaints registered are redirected to the concerned officers immediately. App users are then informed, via SMS, about their complaint number and the time frame within which the issue will be resolved.
The Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has implemented a centralised integrated water management system to identify the demand for potable water, check for illegal supply, and analyse incremental supply requirements for meeting the demand. GMDA also allows online payment of water bills. With a view to promote online payments and incentivise customers, GMDA provides a 5 per cent rebate on the total amount to consumers who make online payments. Other ULBs and water departments in places such as Shimla, Prayagraj, Lucknow, Bhopal, Pune and Hyderabad have also deployed technologies enabling digital payment of water bills and taxes. Meanwhile, industrial units located outside overexploited and critical groundwater blocks in Uttar Pradesh can soon apply for no-objection certificates for groundwater extraction through an online portal.
Digital and technological advancements have also been witnessed in other segments of the water sector. Advanced solutions such as supervisory control and data acquisition systems and remote sensors are being deployed to monitor collection, distribution and treatment systems. Smart water meters have been deployed in Pune to reduce non-revenue water (NRW). Accordingly, the Pune Municipal Corporation conducts water audits and undertakes systematic leakage detection and repairs to reduce NRW. Meanwhile, the Kerala Water Authority has adopted the Sahara drag chute and SmartBall® leak detection technologies for easier and more effective detection of leakages, thereby reducing NRW.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the need for e-governance in the water sector to the forefront. In such challenging times, when ensuring social distancing and avoiding unnecessary movement have become imperative, online access to services such as billing, payments and applying for new connections has ensured that ULBs are able to generate whatever revenue they can. ULBs that had already deployed digital initiatives prior to the pandemic fared better in terms of revenue generation and providing civic services to citizens. Going forward, deploying mobile and digital solutions across India and sensitising citizens will be imperative for the benefit of both residents and ULBs.