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Sushil Agrawal, TCIPL: ‘Time for Upgrading Drinking Water Infrastructure in India’

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In order to develop world class water infrastructure in India the Government needs to embrace new age technologies as well as need to update and standardise the procedures followed for creation of DPR and NIT of the project,’ Says Sushil Agrawal, Managing Director, Tejas Construction & Infrastructure Pvt Ltd (TCIPL). In conversation with Souvik Goswami, APAC Digital News Network.

What are the core areas in water sector in which TCIPL is working?

TCIPL has been working as an EPC contractor for Drinking Water Supply and Sewerage projects in Government Sector in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states. We have completed and are currently executing water supply projects for in urban areas for Municipal Corporations and Municipal Councils as well as Multi Village Rural Water Supply Projects. Apart from designing, construction and O&M of water supply projects we have also developed our expertise in Designing and implementing PLC SCADA automation of the entire water supply scheme. We also work in implementation of GIS, BIM and Drone based solutions such as creation of GIS based as built drawings of water supply network. We have expertise in consumer survey and GIS based digitisation of consumer data. TCIPL also engaged in the creation of built drawings and digital twins of civil structures using LiDAR Scanners and BIM and also we are active in drone based survey of project area and creation of elevation map, etc. Apart from our EPC contracting, we also offer these solutions and services to Government Departments, Urban Local Bodies and Private Sector Companies.

What according to you are the challenges of water sector in India and how these challenges can be leveraged as opportunity to build an effective system?

Though we are building world class infrastructure in India from scratch such as Metro, Airports, Bridges and Housing, we are lagging in terms of the drinking water supply infrastructure in the country. For award of work the total life cycle cost of project i.e. Construction Cost + O&M Cost should be the criteria instead of only construction cost which leads to suboptimal construction of the scheme. Depletion of water sources near settlements has resulted in supply of raw water from far away sources which leads to substantial increase in the construction cost as well as O&M cost of the project. This makes conservation of existing sources and rejuvenation of depleted sources very important. There is no standardisation in preparation of DPR and NIT which leads to creation of lower quality DPR with inadequate or incorrect data and there is currently no uniformity in the selection of technology for major components which leads to substantial variation in cost of construction of schemes and quality of treated water delivered at consumer end.

The selection of technology should be uniform for major components with limited choice offered to contractors. Not only this, Intermittent supply of water leads to substantial wastage of water, reduces quality of water supply, reduces life of water infrastructure, and increases O&M cost and efforts. Hence it is important that the schemes should be constructed for 24×7 water supply. At present there is no metering of water supply even in majority of the urban areas at zone and DMA level as well as at consumer level. Non metering and not doing a water audit leads to substantial increase in the Non Revenue Water (NRW) in the system. NRW for many Indian cities are as high as 55% compared to 5%-7% for Singapore.

Non availability of the details of the existing pipeline network with client hampers the designing of augmented network and leads to delay in designing and construction of network. NIT is published without completion of prerequisites like financial tie up, reservation of water in source, clearance from various Government Department like forest, and various roads and railways authority for right of way, and acquisition of land. So the execution is delayed beyond period given in NIT which leads to additional cost due to cost escalation and claims by contractor.

Can new age technology & innovation be the game changer in coming years?

Absolutely! Some of the new age technologies and solutions that can revolutionise the water supply in India are:

  • Designing of water supply network using tools like Darwin Designer method for optimisation of the network
  • Creation of DMAs for equitable supply of water in the distribution
  • Pressure management in the network using pressure reducing valves
  • Installation of water meters for leak detection in the system using step wise use of isolation valves.

Given the scale of our country and the specialised skill set required for designing, construction and O&M of the water supply schemes, there is a tremendous shortage of experience and expertise at client side as well as contractor side. It requires tremendous efforts for capacity building on utilities as well as the executor side.

Some of the technologies that can be used for addressing the issues are:

  • The use of precast structures can be introduced in water supply schemes, at least to begin with the construction of OHTs to address the shortage of skilled labourers in the country.
  • The shortage of skilled manpower for O&M can be overcome substantially by incorporating and implementing new age technologies such as PLC SCADA automation for operation of the schemes. Also, the challenges such as unavailability of the details and drawings of existing pipeline network can be solved by using digitisation techniques such as GIS.

Similarly, creation of as built drawings of civil structures along with digitisation of detailing and positions of concealed components can be achieved using BIM which would greatly enhance the efficiency of O&M and make the augmentation of the scheme very easy for the department saving both time and cost. AI chat-bot can be used for setup of 24×7 customer care and grievance redressal system. AI based leak detection system can also be implemented using satellite imagery and data from ultrasonic sensors.

Your expectations out of government in terms of meaningful policies for the growth of water sector in India.

In order to develop world class water infrastructure in India the Government needs to embrace new age technologies as well as need to update and standardise the procedures followed for creation of DPR and NIT of the project.

Some of the policies than can be implemented are:

  • The policy for construction of water supply infrastructure should be same across the nation
  • Bring out legislation in parliament to supply the water through meter with option to give concession to weaker class, but it must be billed. In case somebody does not pay the water charges the act should permit the utility to cut his water connection
  • SOPs need to be created for prominent activities right from DPR and NIT preparation to execution of the project to bring uniformity in the work
  • NIT for any works should only be published after receiving all approvals such as approval for reservation of water from source, acquisition of land for construction of subworks and approval of right of way from other Government Department for laying of pipelines, etc.
  • The NITs for works should be prepared based on model bid document such as FIDIC contracts or the one developed by CIDC and Price variation clause and arbitration clause should be included in all NITs to attract capable and rational bidders.

Also to understand the best practices in water supply the functioning of overseas advanced utilities such as Public Utilities Board (PUB) Singapore can be studied and the practices followed by them can be adapted.

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