As in most urban areas of India, water supply in the three cities of Karnataka was unreliable and limited in coverage. Residents with house connections (about 50 percent, both legal and illegal) had been use to getting unreliable water for one or two hours, and with varying frequency of up to once every 10 days. All residents had to cope with this situation by purchasing costly and unreliable service from water tankers or by walking up to 200 meters to fetch water from stand posts. There was no sense of being a customer who pays for and expects reliable water service.
The Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project was launched in 2005. It was conceived as a pilot and indeed its first phase demonstrated that continuous, efficient, and sustainable water services could be achieved in India’s urban areas. The first phase comprised five demonstration areas in the north Karnataka cities of Belgaum, Hubli-Dharwad, and Gulbarga—three of the most water-stressed cities in the region.
As originally envisaged, subsequent phases would extend 24/7 service to the entire area of the three cities and into other municipalities in Karnataka. The demonstration areas were selected together with the State and the cities having in mind political economy, technical feasibility, and inclusion of low-income areas. Investments in bulk water supply were needed to improve service in the entire cities, as well as help assure supply to the demonstration areas. The project aimed at strengthening decentralization, by involving the cities with decision power throughout the project design, construction, and operation phases.
Through a competitive process, an experienced private operator was selected to design, contract, and then operate the system for two years. The operator’s obligations included providing 100 percent metered connections to residents and providing a billing and commercial system, including 24/7 customer service. A third party technical auditor would help cities ensure compliance. In parallel, an intense social interaction and communications campaign established an enabling environment by addressing stakeholders concerns like metering and volumetric tariffs and the notion of a private operator, and in general providing continuous information and interaction.
For more than two years, pilot areas of Belgaum, Hubli- Dharwad, and Gulbarga in northern Karnataka have received reliable, uninterrupted water supply service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
About 25,000 households (175,000 individuals or 10 percent of the three cities’ total population) benefit from a new and sound “customer approach” system that includes 100 percent metered connections, monthly bills based on consumption with affordable tariffs, and 24/7 customer service; and that operates at the level of a well-run water utility. The high level (80 percent and improving) of water bill collection serves to highlight beneficiary satisfaction. There had been virtually no collection before.
Overall, there is a 10 percent lower consumption of water than before the project. This is because leakage has reduced due to improvements in infrastructure and better operations and maintenance; households now conserve water due to volumetric pricing; and with no more need to store water, they do not waste it.
- 24/7 hours/days of reliable uninterrupted water supply in parts of three cities of northern Karnataka
- About 25,000 households benefiting from the new “customer-approach” system of water supply
- 100 percent of households with meter connections and monthly bills in the beneficiary households of the three pilot cities
- About 10 percent less water is being used than estimated
The project total cost is US$51 million and is partially financed with an IBRD loan of US$39.5 million.
Having water available at the turn of a tap any time of the day or night, has transformed the life of project beneficiaries. Women, in particular, have been freed from the time-consuming chore of collecting water, now enabling them to go out and work to supplement their family incomes. Medical statistics show impressive declines in water-borne diseases, and anecdotal evidence indicates increase in the value of beneficiary households.
The Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project evolved from dialogues with the World Bank. Initially proposed by the Government of Karnataka to be a13-municipalities project, the World Bank advised a smaller and pragmatic alternative to demonstrate feasibility of continuous water supply in India; no other example existed in the country. The project’s design, an exercise among all partners, including the World Bank, reflected the realities of Indian political economy situation.
All through the project’s implementation, the Bank team closely assisted in addressing the technical, social, environmental, and managerial issues. The World Bank followed a strategy of putting the client in the driver’s seat, while giving background support through field visits, brainstorming when alternatives ideas were necessary, helping with tools and techniques, and preparing action plans, all resulting in effective support to the client.
The Government of Karnataka, which showed high-level commitment throughout the project, brought together the interests of various groups—politicians, communities, and local and state institutions. Despite several changes of administrators and political parties during the course of the project, the commitment was unwavering.
The Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Finance Corporation (KUIDFC), an agency of the Government of Karnataka, managed the project in partnership with Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB), the urban local bodies, and local non-governmental organizations. A private operator managed the design, construction and operations and maintenance of the water distribution systems in the demonstration zones of the three participating cities, while the KUWSDB or the municipalities managed the bulk water systems to assure bulk supply to the demonstration zones.
Toward the Future
The Government of Karnataka has decided to scale up the three-city pilot interventions (Phase-I), and the feasibility studies are underway. Many other states are continuously visiting the project, and initiating similar investment approaches. The Government of India is now promoting urban water investments leading to 24/7 service levels.