Interview

MWRRA: Ensuring Efficient Water Usage through Recycling & Reusing

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KP Bakshi

“When it comes to water use efficiency, we have to ensure that judicious usage of water is done in agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors to reduce the wastage of water. We need to change the mindset of people when it comes to water usage. People must understand that water should be charged at least at par with mobile, cable and internet for a family, if not more” says KP Bakshi, Chairman, Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) in an exclusive interview with Harshal Desai of Elets News Network (ENN).

What are the major functions of MWRRA which have made the Centre plan similar bodies in other states?

In April 2019, we proposed to the Government of India that we would hold an All India Water Regulators’ Conference. This was readily agreed to by Sri UP Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti. He promised to extend all support to the Conference. We held the conference in Pune on April 26, 2019. During the conference, participants observed that although several states are facing challenges of water scarcity, there was less than adequate knowledge about regulatory aspects in the water sector. On the other hand, we in Maharashtra have been regulating the water sector for the past 13 to 14 years now.

The first regulatory authority in Maharashtra after the passage of the MWRRA ACT in 2005,  was set up in 2006. Since then, we have taken a lot of measures and expedited reforms for regulating the water resources sector in Maharashtra. We felt that the other states also have very vast experience in managing their limited water resources and have a lot of innovative ideas. However, we realized that there was no common forum for discussions and exchange of innovative ideas and experiences. This conference served as a common platform for brainstorming and was attended by the existing regulatory authorities of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir. Around seven to eight Secretaries of several State Water departments were also in attendance, which included Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. It was concluded that there is a need to set up regulatory authorities in several states so that the water sector in the entire country becomes more disciplined.

As promised by Mr. Singh, he assisted us in organizing the conference in Pune and also attended the Conference for the entire day. I understand that the Centre has now requested other states to set up their water regulators and has mentioned that MWRRA would help in every possible way.

In the recent past, one of the Central Finance Commissions had recommended that every state must have a water regulatory body. However, all the states have not been able to complete the formation of regulatory authorities in their states.

How does MWRRA price the water supply?

We have a system of tariff setting, which is done for a block of three years. Right now we are in the block of 2017-2020. The next tariff exercise will be done for the period from 2020-2023. We have already finalized the approach paper. Now we are in the process of finalizing the criteria for tariff setting in four sectors, namely agriculture, industry, domestic and commercial. The new tariff structure would be different from the previous one of 2017-20 block. We have to ensure that the entire Operations & Maintenance expenses required by the Water Resources Department are recovered through the tariff structure. This is provided in the Act itself and that’s how the entire exercise of tariff setting is undertaken. It’s a very long drawn process involving a series of extensive and wide-ranging public consultations.

We decide as to which sector can be charged a little more and which sector can pay slightly less. This is decided after public consultations. We have a rigorous process of holding public consultations, departmental hearings, and other stakeholders’ meetings which go on for a few months to arrive at the final tariff structure. This tariff is only applicable to the bulk water supply. We don’t fix the tariff for retail distribution.  After the tariff is fixed, the users such as the municipal corporations, industries, Water Users’ Associations and various establishments pay the bulk water charges to the Water Resource Department and draw their entitled quota of water from the water reservoirs. Based on their expenses of conveyance, treatment, distribution etc. they fix the retail charges. The process is already going on for the 2020-23 block and it is expected to be completed by the end of June of this year. We are expected to implement it by July 1, 2020, which will remain in force till June 30, 2023.

How is MWRRA bringing in behavioural changes in terms of attaching greater value to water as a depleting resource?

One of the biggest tasks of MWRRA is to create awareness among people on judicious usage of water. We have set up a Centre of Excellence within MWRRA to create awareness at the ground level. It is named Maharashtra Centre for Innovation, Progressive Regulation and Awareness in Water (M-CIPRAW). It’s an extended arm of the Regulatory Authority. This Centre will also work on suggesting amendments in the Acts or bringing reforms in the water sector along with generating awareness at the grassroots level. There is a Consultative Committee of the M-CIPRAW which presently has 34 members from across the country and even from South Australia. The members include consultants, industry representatives, policy-research institutions such as the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi, IIT Bombay, Science & Technology Park, Pune, NGOs working in the water sector and some Secretaries of the State Government of Maharashtra among others.

The awareness creation is proposed to be done through multiple levels such as workshops, seminars, visits, study tours, introducing relevant courses in the curriculum by coordinating with the Education Departments, NGOs, etc.

How is the formation of the Ministry of Jal Shakti impacting the functioning of MWRRA?

The Ministry of Jal Shakti has been supporting the functioning of MWRRA. It is a good idea on the part of the Government of India to create an umbrella regulatory authority to manage the macro and micro level water regulatory functions in the entire country and also act as an advisor in this sector. There is a tendency of almost all government departments to work in silos. The Ministry of Jal Shakti can work towards breaking this barrier and create a common ground for information sharing and for spreading good regulatory practices across the country.

How are you incentivizing water management in the sectors of agriculture, industry, domestic usage, etc.?

For water management, each river tribunal allows a particular amount of water usage in a state. The state can control the collection, storage and usage of surface water and groundwater. The regulatory authorities have to work on the water balance available in the state and allocate water across all sectors accordingly. We carry out an exercise of deciding how much water to allocate across all sectors based on their needs and water availability. This exercise is dependent on the precipitation in the basin in that year. For example, I may have surplus water in one part of the state and have a water deficit in the other part in a particular year. Based on that, we plan how to economize on water uses in the deficit area and make optimal use in the surplus area. We push measures for the use of modern techniques for practising micro-irrigation techniques. Incentives are built into the tariff structure for efficient use of water and we discourage excessive and unnecessary use of water by applying penal rates beyond a reasonable limit. The challenges we face are far too many such as problems of storage where there is a surplus, timely releases, huge pumping costs for lift irrigation systems, disputes amongst various stakeholders and political pulls & pressures.

How do you monitor water wastage across industries?

We don’t monitor water usage on a day to day basis. But there are built-in incentives and disincentives in the bulk water tariff structure which take care of minimizing the wastages. We also promote recycling and reuse of used and re-treated water. The MWRRA, with the support of the 2030 Water Resources Group hosted by the World Bank, has come out with a concept of Wastewater Reuse Certificates (WRCs) which are going to become tradable. Industries are supposed to treat their effluent and recycle their treated water to their standards. Targets will be fixed for the industries and local bodies to achieve a certain percentage of wastewater treatment. By 2022, they have to treat 100 percent of wastewater. They are expected to reuse at least 30 percent of the treated water by the year 2022.

Which Municipal Corporations are doing well in this regard, in terms of recycling and reusing water?

In terms of recycling and reuse of water, Municipal Corporations of Nagpur, Nashik and Pimpri Chinchwad are doing well. They are not only treating their wastewater to a very high level but are also supplying the treated water to the thermal power plants and other users in and around the cities.

What are the other focus areas of MWRRA?

Our key focus areas are the allocation of water, tariff setting, improving water use efficiency and promoting water reuse. When it comes to water use efficiency, we have to ensure that judicious usage of water is ensured in industrial, agricultural or domestic sectors to reduce the wastage of water. For instance in Maharashtra, a prominent area is focusing more on sugarcane cultivation. The traditional irrigation system for sugarcane cultivation is by flooding the sugarcane field. It is a big challenge for us to motivate farmers to shift to the micro-irrigation system, which uses much less water but produces more or at least the same quantity of sugarcane. Moreover, it reduces the salinity of the land. Hence, the productivity of the land does not get affected adversely. Right now, the productivity of land is getting reduced because of the excessive use of water in the flooding system of irrigation.

Most importantly, we need to change the mindset of the people when it comes to water usage. People must understand that water is at least as expensive as mobile, cable and internet in a family, if not more. Hence, one must attach that much value to each drop of water. It will be unwise to say that water is a free resource. It is free till it is raining, but when it comes to collection, storage, treatment and distribution it is going to cost money.

Is MWRRA collaborating with agriculture technology companies as well? Please throw some light on this.

Yes, we have developed a platform for achieving excellence in the water sector which we named as M-CIPRAW as I mentioned earlier. This Centre is going to collaborate with all stakeholders connected with the water use and therefore agriculture becomes an important sector for us. This Centre for innovation in regulation and water use as well as awareness in the water sector is going to provide the opportunities to Agri-Tech companies for seeking an opportunity to showcase their innovations to the experts in the Consultative Committee. It also proposes to promote incubation for start-ups in the water sector. In fact the idea is to provide a common platform for industry, agriculture, utilities, academia, regulators, and government, in short, all the relevant and important stakeholders.

How do you coordinate with the water supply and sanitation department?

We are concerned with several departments of the Government of Maharashtra, the most important being the Department of Water Resources which collects the water in major and other dams and manages to supply the water through canals, pipes, etc. The second department is the Water Supply and Sanitation Department. This department deals only with drinking water and sanitation of all the urban and rural local bodies and is responsible for groundwater development. We coordinate with this department frequently. In fact the MWRRA is also the State Groundwater Authority. So we are mandated to regulate the groundwater sector as well. We support them in policy or regulatory matters.

Any other information you would like to share with our readers.

I urge the readers and people across all walks of life to value water whether it’s for drinking or for agriculture or for any other use. Also people should prepare themselves to pay more for water so that the public utilities and civic bodies can deliver good quality water in sufficient quantities. Last but not the least, each one of us should strive to spread awareness among the people so that water resources are used efficiently and judiciously.

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