Maharashtra leading the way in water reforms, says new World Bank report

July 27, 2012

Mumbai – At least 40-70 percent more water can be made available for urban Indian homes at no extra cost if physical and financial leakages in the delivery of Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) services are plugged. Maharashtra is showing the way and has been implementing several measures to plug these inefficiencies, says a new World Bank report.

The report, Improving Urban Water Supply & Sanitation Services – Lessons from Business Plans for Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Haryana and International Good Practices seeks to address the key issues facing the water sector in India’s states and cities. The report highlights the different water supply scenarios prevailing in three states – Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Haryana. While all three states present a similar picture in terms of access to piped water, they differ considerably when it comes to the quality of service provided. For instance, while towns in Haryana have the highest average quantity of water available at 95-105 liters per capita daily (Lpcd), supply is irregular and varies widely between seasons. Towns in Maharashtra, on the other hand, have less water available at 78 Lpcd but benefit from a more regular supply. Rajasthan, the desert state, has the least availability of water and the least reliable supply, with only 162 out of the state’s 222 towns receiving water every day. The cost recovery scenario presents an even more diverse picture. While the average recovery rate in Maharashtra is 68 percent, it’s 35 percent in Rajasthan and a mere 11 percent in Haryana.

With higher recovery rates, Maharashtra is clearly at an advantage as it has already begun implementing many of the reforms needed to reduce inefficiencies in the delivery of WSS services. The state is introducing consumer survey, water and energy audits in its Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), GIS mapping, bulk metering, hydraulic modeling, computerized billing and collection, and ring fencing of WSS operations among other measures as part of phase one under the Maharashtra Sujal Nirman Abhiyan (MSNA), an incentive-based reform system, the report says.

Although there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, the report highlights many good examples from Australia, Algiers, and Brazil where water utilities started with a similar scenario but managed to reduce their inefficiencies over a span of 5-10 years. India, while maintaining the targeted subsidies for the poor, can also provide more and better quality water to its citizens, the report states.

In the second phase, the Maharashtra government under the MSNA program will introduce piloting of 24x7 water supply, city-wide metering, sanitation systems, 100 percent billing and collection, increase in the autonomy of service providers and adopting of service standards and tariff guidelines. In the third phase most ULBs in Maharashtra are expected to implement activities including 24x7 water supply across cities, corporatization of utilities, and regulating mechanisms.

“This approach, we hope, will help us increase efficiency and deliver better services to our people across the state. The task to set in place autonomous, accountable and customer-oriented service providers that international experience indicates is necessary is daunting but achievable,” said Ms. Malini Shankar, principal secretary, Water Supply and Sanitation Department, government of Maharashtra.

International experience indicates the importance of creating institutions with clearly defined roles and responsibilities between policy makers, designers, and service providers along with clear lines of accountability. Johannesburg provides an example of how separating policy and regulation from other functions improved a utility’s management. Brazil and Australia provide examples of models that can suit municipalities of different sizes and capacity, the report adds.

“The need of an average water user is at the heart of these recommendations. A well-serving utility needs to provide continuous good quality water at affordable rates. This report identifies bottlenecks and what can be achieved as there is a growing realization that creating infrastructure alone will not solve the problem. Better management of urban water supply services will help us arrive at a sustainable solution. Policies are moving in the right direction. These moves need to be consolidated and their introduction speeded up,” said Ms. Smita Misra, senior economist, and W. Kingdom, Lead Water & Sanitation Specialist, South Asia Sustainable Development Unit, World Bank.

Apart from institutions, it is imperative to build the human resources that are capable of designing, creating and managing the complexities of urban water provision, the report says. For this, a municipal cadre of dedicated professionals will be needed to provide the highest levels of service to consumers. Capacity can be built through classroom training, twinning with the state-of-the-art utilities, or contracting out to professional service providers or public private partnerships (PPPs). A number of models can be explored under the capacity-building program of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission II, it adds.

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