Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh’s third largest city, has become the first city in India to guarantee universal access to treated water. Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation, has aimed to improve the city’s water supply and ensured that all households have tap water connections.

Vijayawada has become the country’s first city to have ensured universal access to treated water. Every household in this three-tier town now receives water, a distinction yet to be achieved by India’s metropolitan cities.

Andhra Pradesh’s third largest city has been concentrating on bettering its water supply over the past two years under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), say officials in the Urban Development Ministry. So while Andhra Pradesh has bagged the distinction of being one of the best performing states under the Mission, Vijayawada has found mention for its improved performance in water supply and sewerage.

The Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) offered water-tap connections on demand and covered all households. Existing water connection charges were reduced and procedures streamlined. This has earned the VMC a national award under the Services to the Poor category of the National Urban Water Awards for 2009-10.

A report of the National Institute of Urban Affairs under the UD Ministry says one of the stumbling blocks in water supply in various cities has been the lack of reliable information on the performance of utilities at various stages. Vijayawada too lacked accurate data on various parameters of supply: flow, overflows, leakages, chlorine level.

A pilot study conducted by the municipality before implementation of the JNNURM project provided information on how much is wasted. It found that overflows from a reservoir accounted for the wastage of about 4,700 kilolitres of purified water, while about 13,138 kilolitres of purified water leaked out during a month of observation. The main problems identified were incomplete closing of the valves, the absence of timely maintenance of valves, and the absence of an alarm system that would alert officials to overflows leading to leakages and wastage. Leakages and overflows, the study found, resulted in water being unaccounted for, estimated at about 45 per cent.

Vijayawada tackled this problem with a system for real-time monitoring and control of the water distribution system. A comprehensive online database was set up: data collected from the site was validated, processed and networked into a central place.

Problems are relayed to the ground staff through SMS in real time, ensuring faults are repaired immediately. A separate BSNL line is being mooted to make the centralised information accessible online to VMC officials at headquarters. Alarms have been installed at each reservoir to alert staff on overflow.

The VMC states that the major results the project brought about was that low-chlorine areas were reduced, overflows were brought down to nearly nil, and unaccounted-for water was brought down from 40 per cent to 18.