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Vol. XXXI No. 14, November 1-15, 2021
The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) has a clutch of interesting projects on hand at the moment. In a chat with Madras Musings, Mr. P. Akash, Executive Director, CMWSSB, speaks about the organisation’s goals, ongoing projects and pioneering schemes.
Recently, the World Bank announced the $150 million Chennai City Partnership: Sustainable Services Program, which included among its goals the improvement in the quality of water supply and sewerage in the city. The Singara Chennai 2.0 initiative that was unveiled earlier this year has also placed a focus on water management, allotting Rs. 200 crores to the Metro Water from its budget. The department has quite a few vital projects in the pipeline.
“We’re at a critical juncture. Compared to the past, a lot of activities are underway,” said Mr. Akash when asked about the current workload at CMWSSB. He offered a brief background of the organization’s work to illustrate the pace at which the team is meeting milestones today. In 2011, the Chennai Corporation expanded the area under its responsibility from 176 square kilometres to 426 square kilometres and came into its current form as the Greater Chennai Corporation, taking on many new areas under its wing like Thiruvottiyur, Manali, Sholinganallur, Madhavaram and Ambattur, which were earlier managed by local bodies such as village panchayats, town panchayats and municipalities. The expansion, Mr Akash said, was largely geographical in the very beginning. “It takes time to design water supply and underground sewerage schemes,” he explained. Today, water supply in all the erstwhile local bodies is either functional or under implementation, save for Semmanchery and Neelangarai, where the work is expected to begin next year. As for sewerage, work is reportedly already under progress in 25 erstwhile local bodies and plans have been drawn up for the remaining 17. “We plan to cover all of Chennai city under our water supply and sewerage schemes within five years,” said Mr. Akash. “All households should have access to potable and piped water supply. Our aim is for every street to be equipped with this facility so that no household falls outside the radar of service.”
Among the many projects that the department is working on, water metering is perhaps the one that will have the greatest change in the way the city consumes water. Currently, Chennai reportedly has around 20,000 water meters, all exclusively in commercial establishments where the volume of water usage is high. “The current domestic tariff is Rs. 80 per month regardless of whether the consumption is 1 kilolitre or 30 kilolitres,” pointed out Mr Akash. “There is no incentive to save water.” Even this flat tariff has remained unchanged for the past couple of years – even though an annual board resolution is usually passed to increase the domestic tariff by 5 per cent and the commercial tariff by 10 per cent, it hasn’t been implemented in view of the pandemic.
There are other problems that water meters can solve, too. Mr. Akash explained that households in the vicinity of pumping stations receive water at a greater pressure than those on the periphery, so the lack of judicious water usage impacts the service supplied to consumers at the tail end. Under the metering project, the entire city will be divided into distinct water districts so that uniform water pressure can be ensured in all the streets within a district; further, there will be 24×7 water supply and fully functioning meters. “It is an ambitious goal,” acknowledged Mr Akash. “It might take another three, perhaps four years; but it definitely is one of our key objectives.” Apart from encouraging citizens and businesses alike to economize water usage, the metering scheme will also help the department raise revenues for future projects.
Speaking on the challenges that lie in the way of implementation, Mr. Akash said, “For projects that aim to expand water supply and sewerage, pipeline laying is a major challenge in the city compared to the districts. Sewerage network lines go through the centre of the road, so traffic management makes the work quite complex. Additionally, such projects have massive outlays amounting to hundreds of crores. The scale of infrastructure investments involved may lead to liquidity issues at the contractor’s end, making it hard for them to mobilize manpower, money and material.” As for the metering project, Mr. Akash feels that there may be resistance from the public, as they will likely end up paying more for water based on their consumption levels. “We are planning educational campaigns to accompany the introduction of domestic water meters to ease the transition,” he said.