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Privatising water supply – Nation News

Sonu Ukey, a resident of Sangharsh Nagar, an underprivileged locality in Nagpur, says when she got married two years ago, she had heard horror stories from her mother-in-law about walking 2 km to fetch water from a public tap. Now, the 100-odd families here all have a separate tap outside their houses. “Sasubai (mother-in-law) says we save three hours every day with the water coming to our doorstep,” says Ukey.

Ukey’s happiness is the success of a 24×7 water supply scheme conceived by the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) and run by Orange City Water (OCW), a private company owned by Veolia India, a subsidiary of the French company, Veolia Environnement S.A. Till 2012, the water situation was grim in Nagpur. Around 250,000 reside­nts, out of the city’s 2.7 million inhabitants, had no access to water. Hundreds of residents, mostly slum-dwellers, used to take out ‘matka morchas’ to the NMC office every summer protesting the acute water scarcity. This was despite the ample water available in the four rivers in Nagpur’s periphery.

The situation started changing after 2012 when the NMC signed an agreement with OCW to run the management and distribution of water in Nagpur. The Rs 550 crore PPP (public-private partnership) model project had two big goals, supply water to every household and reduce losses from 60 to 25 per cent. Today, they have succee­ded in installing 250,000 new metered con­n­­ections and supply 660 MLD (million litres per day) water to the city. Some 600,000 people or 25 per cent of the population now get water 24×7. Every resident gets more than 130 litres of water (the universal norm) a day. “We could deliver because of out-of-box ideas, community engagement and hard work,” says Arun Lakhani, one of the fou­nders of OCW and now CMD of Vishvaraj Env­ir­onmental.

OCW has laid 600 km of new pipeline and also maintains around 3,000 km of pipeline. The company’s outreach programmes include water sensitisat­ion drives (‘My City, My Water’) in 500 sch­ools and ‘water friends’, volunteers who go door-to-door to make people aware of the importance of water. A big challenge was ins­talling meters. Initially, resid­e­nts opposed the idea fearing bills would shoot up, but they gradually came around.

NMC commissioner B. Radha­krishnan says along with improved water quality, discipline has also been brought to bill collection. “At present, 24 out of 65 command areas are getting 24×7 water,” he says. “We are planning to bring in more areas under water cover. There will be new lines and free flow of water soon.”

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