“Our mindset is such that we want everything free,” says Umesh Desai director of water resources at Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Ahmedabad. That mindset led to much initial resistance when resident associations in about 15 apartment complexes in Ahmedabad decided to install individual water meters and started charging for the water consumed by each apartment.
Given that in most Indian cities, charges for utilities like water and electricity are heavily subsidised and nowhere near actual production costs, and free water and electricity is a sop most political parties offer during elections, it took some convincing the Ahmedabad flat owners to pay for the water they consumed.
“But eventually, they understood that free was in fact working out to be more expensive,” says Umesh.
Navdeep apartment complex in the city’s Memnagar area is a good example of the savings water metering can generate. As shared by Umesh, its residents pay just Rs 13.50 per cubic meter ever since water meters were installed in 2012, some 17 years after the flats were built. In comparison, “Copenhagen charges end users $7.38 (Rs 547) per cubic meter, the highest among major metropolises in the world as compared to $0.28 (Rs 20.78) in Bangkok and $0.24 (Rs 17.8) in Delhi,” he points out.
Navdeep is not the only housing society in Ahmedabad that realised water meters would cut water and electricity bills. Over 15 residential colonies in Ahmedabad have, on their own, installed water meters and are happy to reap the benefits of the resultant savings.
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These initiatives are significant given that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is yet to make water metering mandatory, especially in apartment complexes. A majority of the city’s residents are totally dependent on ground water. Data, compiled by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWD), shared in Parliament suggests that Ahmedabad has the third deepest groundwater aquifer at 67 metres (around 220 feet) after Jaipur and Dehradun.
According to the AMC, it has a capacity of 1,900 million litres of water a day while 1,485 MLD is being utilised. This includes 810 MLD of Narmada dam waters and 130 MLD of borewell water. And the civic body has a water treatment capacity of 1,340 MLD.
The numbers may look comfortable on paper, but citizens are concerned and so are acting on their own to conserve usage.
Installation of water meters was started in Navdeep due to concerns over leakages and huge wastage of water because of old corrugated iron pipelines and plastic pipes getting clogged by dissolved solids in the water. This meant recurring and increasing expenditure on repairs, forcing the apartment association to hike monthly maintenance charges to Rs 1000-1200, from Rs 700 earlier.
Desai, who prepared a study on Navdeep in the light of Gujarat’s depleting water resources, tells us that when these discussions were taking place among the Navdeep residents, a model already existed in a housing society nearby. “A group of residents went to nearby Avadh Apartment where they had installed water meters,” recalls Umesh. “Avadh’s residents made a presentation to Navdeep’s managing committee. After much persuasion, almost 90% of Navdeep’s members agreed to install water meters”.
The entire project, including replacing the pipelines with PVC fittings and water meters cost over Rs 7 lakh, with each household contributing Rs 10,000. “This contribution was recovered in around 40 months from the drastic reduction in water bills and cut in monthly maintenance to Rs 400,” Desai explains. “Those who were complaining are more than happy today.” The water charges, according to usage shown in the meter, too came down from Rs 15 per 1,000 litres to Rs 12 as wastage was reduced.
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This also resulted in savings on energy consumption. “The bimonthly electricity bill used to be something like Rs 80,000 which has come down to some Rs 30,000-35000,” says Bhogilal Chotaliya, Navdeep’s secretary.
Navdeep resident Girish Tanna, a retired government officer, explains that a major part of electricity consumption was in the lifting of water from the underground tank to the overhead distribution tanks. “Because of leakages and irresponsible use of water, we had to switch on the motor frequently to pump the water,” says Girish. “Now the tanks remain full the whole day”.
Electricity bill: From Rs 58000 to Rs 9000
Until they decided to install meters, the residents of 70 flats in three blocks of Keshavpriya apartment had to cough up Rs 58000 each, every two months, for electricity. Now they pay Rs 9000. They have an underground water tank of 70000 litre capacity and the average daily consumption used to be 2000 litres a day per flat, meaning a daily total consumption of 140000 litres. The tank had to be filled twice a day to meet this requirement, which has now come down to 35000 litres.
“For as long as the society was in the possession of the builder, we never realised the mammoth bills he paid,” said Dinesh Shah, Secretary of Keshavpriya Apartment. “Once it was passed on to the residents, they found each block of five storeys used to pay Rs 58000 as power bill and there was huge wastage of water. That’s when they thought of water meters”.
The society inevitably faced resistance from a few residents, who argued that it would prove costly in terms of maintenance and installation, but a resolution was passed and water meters were installed in April 2013. “The electricity bill soon came down to around Rs 9000, a saving of nearly Rs 50000,” says Dinesh, as the underground tank is now being filled only once every three days. The society has installed sensors in the underground and overhead tanks which cuts wastage from overflow.
“Water needs to be conserved and we have to lead by example,” says Dinesh. “Savings from reduction in electricity and water wastage and consumption has been possible due to installation of water meters”.
The society charges Rs 15 per unit (1,000 litres). “On an average, 12000 litre is being used per flat per month which was earlier around 60000 litre and there is hardly any maintenance required for the meters,” adds Shah.
Drop in consumption
Ratnajyot complex has 64 flats in four blocks. Earlier, they had to run the submersible pump for 12 hours a day to get water, consuming around 1 lakh litre every day. With installation of water metres, this has come down to 20000 litre.
“We installed water meters end 2015, largely because of high electricity bills to pump the water,” said Vishnu Patel**, chairman of the society. “The bill used to be around Rs 45000 per two months, which has reduced to Rs 12000.”
According to Vishnu, people will value water only if they are charged for it and it was not easy to convince the residents but they finally agreed. The cost of one unit of water usage comes to Rs 8. Water usage has reduced drastically with residents using 10-12 units per month on an average now.
He also firmly believes that future generations will have to strive hard for water if it is not valued and conserved now. “AMC should give the Building Use Permissions to new buildings only if they install water meters,” he adds.
**Errata: The person quoted in the text had been wrongly named as Vishnu Joshi in the first published version.The error is regretted and has been corrected.