In a country where making citizens pay for water they use poses a huge challenge, a partnership between the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) and a small start-up has led to a substantial rise in revenues for the civic body, growth in the number of metered connections and plugging of leakages, highlighting how innovation can help overhaul the sector without substantial capital expenditure being incurred.
It was after a successful one-year pilot run that Cranberry Analytics won the tender for the water billing project for the 20012-16 period – it has also won the second tender since. This came on the back of then PCMC mayor Yogesh Behal and then PCMC municipal commissioner Dilip Band’s initiative to overhaul the system without substantial capital expenditure. The results of that initiative are visible. Revenue for the PCMC water department rose from Rs 24 crore in 2012 to Rs 43 crore in 2019-29. The number of metered consumers increased from 89,953 in 2012 to 1,58,923 in 2019-20, covering a population of 21,96,864, and the number of bills distributed jumped from 55,462 to 8,08,121, says Shishir Thakur, co-founder and CTO, Cranberry Analytics. Around 10,000 million litres of water is being saved every year and 95,000 million litres measured annually. If the fall in the number of complaints and requests for bill rectification is any indication – from 10,642 to 251 over the period – consumers too are happy.
These gains become starker when compared with the huge effort that the next-door Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has had to make to plug water leakages of 35% and loss of 1,84,187 million litres annually. The PMC is implementing a Rs 2,550-crore 24×7 project to bring down water wastage to 15% and ensure equitable distribution. Having raised Rs 200 crore from a bond issue, PMC intends to repay the debt through water charges.
Cranberry Analytics is a technology-enabled company that works with water utilities with on-ground and online tech solutions to map water use and water efficiency across its distribution and consumption cycle. Its primary focus is on getting water utilities to reduce cash burn and eventually turn cash-positive, says Thakur. With around 40% of water in our cities being wasted, effective water measurement can greatly help conserve water. Why this is important is evident from the dwindling average annual per capita water availability in India, which has fallen from 1,816 cubic metres in 2001 to 1,545 cubic metres, and is estimated to fall further to 1,486 cubic metres in 2021 and 1,367 cubic metres by 2031, he says.
Praveen Ladkat, who heads the water distribution unit for PCMC and has played a key role in the project, says the Pimpri Chinchwad water department was facing several issues related to billing and data analytics in the absence of proper software systems, effective field operations and policy frameworks. “Consumer trust and revenue collection had suffered. Further, it was difficult to forecast and plan future activities related to water distribution without any data analysis. It was against this backdrop that we began working with Cranberry Analytics,” he says.
The start-up is now looking to replicate this success in other cities. With Mumbai not having metered connections for around 24% of the 3,800 million litres of water supplied daily and the figure being 40% for Delhi, there is enough to be done, says Thakur.