Udupi leads the way by pumping river water to reservoirs which, in turn, feeds overhead tanks by gravity
While big cities struggle to satisfy their water and sanitation demands, Udipi is slowly setting a standard for water management.
Udupi in coastal Karnataka had an old and leaking water supply infrastructure, sourcing water from myriad open wells apart from borewells. The system was difficult to manage. Revenue collection against expenditure was skewed with the town struggling to balance its budget. It recently took up a systematic overhaul of its supply. Reservoirs were placed on the hills of Manipal adjoining the town and water is pumped from the river to these reservoirs. From here they feed 12 overhead tanks in the city by gravity. Water supply connections have now been dramatically increased and over 60 per cent of the town’s households are connected to daily water supply which has a residual head of six metres, thus filling up overhead tanks in single-storey homes directly.
Leakage has been brought down from over 50 per cent to close to 25 per cent. Tariffs have been revised and collection has gone up. The town is recovering its operation and maintenance cost for water supply and is in a better position to invest in other much needed infrastructure. An underground sewerage system is now being placed which will collect sewage and treat it before releasing it into the environment. The challenge will be to recover the O and M costs for sewerage collection and treatment and ensure that the treatment plants run. With improved water supply and sanitation, property prices go up, ensuring buoyancy in property tax collection. Better services mean a higher quality of life and better revenue means that the poorer sections can be assisted with the available money.
Ullal is another neighbouring town which has replicated the effort of improved water supply and sewerage services. The town of Bantwal developed a hand-held Simputer-based water billing and collection system and upped its revenues.
It now bills its households on site and collects tariff at the house itself. This seems to be a one-of-a-kind innovation by a small town by using a Simputer. Maddur targeted five slums within the town and gave every household a water connection, toilet and sewerage connections.
Towns too are learning to roll out a pro-poor water and sanitation policy. With the 22.75 per cent funds, by law meant to be expended on SC/ST category, towns are giving universal individual water and sanitation connections, funding toilets and even generating health insurance for the populace. This is social targeting of the vulnerable and helping them overcome infrastructure access hurdles at its best.
The interventions in small towns with a population of less than 100,000 seem to indicate that much less energy and capital is necessary for reform. Even a single committed politician or bureaucrat or engineer seems capable of bringing radical change and improvement. Of course institutional support from State-level agencies is essential.