Putting Customers First: ULBs adopt IT to provide better services to citizens

ULBs adopt IT to provide better services to citizens

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 application for new co­nnections. ULBs have also adopted mobile ap­plications (for both iOS and Android), which can be integrated with the hardware infrastructure.

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

In order to better manage the existing water distribution network and infrastructure, and streamline the management process, ULBs are incorporating technologies such as SCADA systems into their day-to-day operations.

In order to undertake complete water audits of la­rge networks, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) is using a SCADA system for flow monitoring and control. DJB installed the country’s first SCADA system to monitor and control water distribution with water-controlled valves at 13 local control points. The utility has decided to set up a state-of-the-art real-time monitoring system as part of the city’s water supply infrastructure to ensure the proper functioning of water treatment plants. The SCADA system provides details such as pressure and flow of water at important locations in the city’s water supply system. At present, ne­arly 3,192 flow meters have been installed and are being integrated with SCADA.

Bengaluru too has been using a SCADA system for its water network for several years. It monitors data from the Bangalore Water Supply and Se­werage Board’s (BWSSB) water supply facilities, such as pumping stations, water and wastewater treatment plants and reservoirs. Based on the data collected, BWSSB optimises the supply of water to the city and improves the operating efficiency of its facilities.

The Ahmedabad Smart City has installed a SCADA system for real-time monitoring of three water treatment plants and 148 water distribution stations. The solution has helped the Ahmeda­bad Municipal Corporation save approximately Rs 60 million annually. Besides, it has helped in utilising 23 million litres per day (mld) of water that was earlier being wasted. Meanwhile, Bho­pal Sm­art City Development Limited has undertaken an initiative to install a technology-enabled SCADA system as part of the comprehensive Bh­opal city water utility SCADA management project.

Initially, the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Cor­po­ra­tion (PCMC) had installed a SCADA system at six newly built sewage treatment plants (STPs) – Chinchwad Phase II (30 mld), Ravet (20 mld), Akurdi (30 mld), Dapodi (20 mld) and Charholi (21 mld). Later, the coverage of the system was ex­panded and all old STPs were brought within its ambit. Meanwhile, an online information system has been installed to generate daily and mo­nthly reports for supervisory control. The SCADA system installed by PCMC enables the corporation to monitor water levels, the amount of treated sewage, the quality of treatment, the dissolved oxygen level, chemical oxygen demand and other aspects of STPs.

Adoption of new cost-effective technologies and solutions to improve access to potable water

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.

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.

Technologies for monitoring water leakages and improving water supply

Cities such as Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru and Delhi have deployed advanced technologies to detect leakages in their water pipeline netwo­rks. 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. The water utility in Bengaluru has installed acoustic sensors near water meters to detect hidden leakages, while the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) is installing sensors and intelligent meters for the same purpose. KWA has ad­opted the Sahara Drag chute and SmartBall leak detection technologies for easier and more effective detection of leakages. In this technology, the eq­uipment is tethered to the surface while the sensor flows along with the water. The water au­tho­rity also uses SmartBall technology to detect leakages in the water network. The SmartBall can travel with the flow of the water for up to 12 ho­urs, collecting information about lea­ks over a long stretch of pipeline in a single de­ployment. How­ever, due to the condition of pipe­lines in the city, the SmartBall cannot be used for long distance services.

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. KWA has deployed mobile sensor nodes with built-in GPS to determine and report the geographical location of pipeline leakages. The use of mobile sensor nodes in pipeline environments is essential, as it can enhance coverage and help a network recover from any failure that partitions the whole network into multiple disconnected sub-networks.

Online bill payment services

Civic agencies such as the Bhubaneswar Muni­ci­pal Corporation (BMC), the Municipal Cor­po­ration of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and the 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, BMC has established a 24×7 call centre to address the complaints of consu­mers without internet access. After they are registered at the call centre, these complaints are pro­ce­ss­ed, translated and fed into a computer, where the built-in intelligent system automatically tracks and enquires about their status with the concerned authority. This ensures that registered co­m­plaints are addressed and issues resolved within the stipulated time frames.

MCGM and BWSSB have also launched mobile applications, such as Karnataka One, which en­able residents to pay bills through their mobile phones. DJB has launched a mobile app called “DJB mSeva” to provide convenience and im­proved 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.

In sum

The outbreak of 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 application 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.