Will India ever get 24/7 water supply?

A few thousand years ago, India’s Harappan Civilisation was renowned for its advanced town planning, reservoirs and drainage system – when the rest of the world was still in the infancy of water management. Today, India’s urban water infrastructure is in such a state of deterioration and disarray that it has the ignominy of being one of the few countries where not even one city has 24/7 water supply.

Indian cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad have water supplies for less than 8-10 hours a day. Yet, there is no dearth of examples of Asian cities with 24/7 water supply, some of those that come to mind are: Beijing, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Male, Phnom Penh, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Tashkent and Vientiane.

The public sector water providers in most metropolitan cities of India have a poorly integrated information system and non-revenue water ranges from 18% in Mumbai to over 30% in Bangalore and Hyderabad, and 50% in Kolkata. When such large quantities of treated water are lost in leakages and illegal connections, it makes little sense to treat the water at all.

Corruption and malpractices are chipping away valuable resources which could have been used for the benefit of the common man. Thus, lower level engineers have enormous discretionary powers, cartels are formed by contractors to raise the bids for even small tenders and kickbacks are given to politicians to procure contracts. The end result is a water infrastructure, which ranks as one of the worst in the world.

According to well-known consultant Stephen Myers, continuous water supply is not an unaffordable luxury but a cheaper option for households if one considers the coping costs of large storage tanks, pumping costs and treatment costs. Most families in the upper income bracket install costly filter systems to treat tapwater. For lower income households in urban areas, intermittent supplies mean hours of waiting at trickling taps to fill buckets of water.

Intermittent supplies are often subject to contamination by sewage during periods of low pressure, when sewage gets sucked in. Also, since large amounts of water have to be pumped in short periods, the diameters of water mains need to be larger. Customers who get intermittent water of poor quality are not ready to pay for water, so there are more defaulters than in the case of continuous water supplies. It is simply a no-brainer that poor service, poor maintenance and poor collection leads to a greater cost of operating an intermittent system than a well-managed 24/7 water supply.

A pilot project to introduce continuous water supply to Delhi was met with enormous resistance by misinformed activists in the recent past. It is only hoped that the project underway in the state of Karnataka to bring 24/7 water supply to four selected cities will be completed on schedule and present a successful example to be emulated by the rest of India. Only then will the land of Harappan Civilisation redeem some of its former stature.

4 thoughts on “Will India ever get 24/7 water supply?

  1. Update on 24-7 water supply in India: I was back in India for The World Bank in May and you will be delighted to know that 24-7 supply had been initiated in pilot areas in 2 of the 4 Karnatakan cities, with the other 2 cities due to follow on soon after. It was very gratifying to walk through the areas included in the 24-7 zones and to hear the reactions of customers. One woman said that she had been able to increase her income by 25%, working 5 days a week instead of 4 – as she no longer had to wait at home with her children for the one day that water was due to come on at an unspecified time! The National Government has now made 24-7 supply obligatory for any city wishing to access its JH National Urban Renewal Fund. I would think that it will take a couple of generations to complete but I have little doubt that 24-7 water supply will become the norm in India.

  2. I would be interested to know which are those two cities in Karnataka where 24-7 supply has started & the names of those 2 cities soon to follow.

  3. The four towns in North Karnataka in which the World Bank-aided projects are ongoing are: Belgaum, Hubli, Dharwar and Gulbarga. Only pilot areas will be covered in all the four towns.

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