Drink straight from tap, thanks to Tata’s water utility

September 28th, 2008 - 2:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Jamshedpur, Sep 28 (IANS) This is India’s only city where you can drink water straight from the tap, thanks to the local utility Ask oil mill owner Manoj Singh, who has paid Rs.10,500 for a connection - a month’s income - but doesn’t regret a single paisa.Singh has found no cause for complaint since his working class neighbourhood Shastri Nagar, just outside the township, was connected to the JUSCO network last November.

“Yes, I paid a lot of money for the connection,” Manoj Singh told IANS. “But it has been worth it. Now the women do not have to go and queue up for hours to fetch drinking water. We get clean water in our taps, 24 hours a day. Where else in this country will you get that?”

The enthused water utility is now poised to spread its wings all over the country, where clean drinking water is often at a premium and where millions of people suffer from water-borne diseases every year.

In August 2003, Tata Steel hived off its Town Division as Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company Limited (JUSCO), a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Jamshedpur started as a township for Tata Iron and Steel Company, now known as Tata Steel. The firm provided all essential services in the township - power and water supply, sanitation, roads and so on.

In the 103 years since its foundation, the city - with a population of 700,000 by the 2001 census - has grown well beyond the township in eastern India. In the new areas, there is no municipality and the supply of water by the Jharkhand state government against a flat rate of Rs.11 a month is as erratic as in any other Indian city.

In the last five years, JUSCO has seen its turnover grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36 percent to Rs.2.72 billion in FY 08 and its profit before tax grow at a CAGR of 47 percent to Rs.284.5 million in the same fiscal.

It has now won a contract to provide water to the township of Haldia and a part of Kolkata’s Salt Lake suburb, both in West Bengal. It is also bidding to supply water to Mysore, and then hopes to expand to more cities.

JUSCO’s confidence stems from its experience here in providing water that’s clean enough to drink and meters that work.

“We can’t afford to have a water supply that doesn’t work,” JUSCO managing director Sanjiv Paul told IANS. “We supply water to the Tata Steel blast furnaces. They work 24×7 for 15 years at a stretch. If there’s a 15-minute break in the water supplied to them, they’ll collapse.

“That’s where we come from. And that’s why we can give a service level guarantee (SLG) to all our domestic water consumers.”

The SLG has improved in the last four years - from three days to fix the water supply to one day now. G.S. Basu, JUSCO’s general manager, water management, is confident it will go down to a few hours very soon.

The initial connection cost may be steep but the tariff - at Rs.6 a kilolitre (kl) up to 25 kl for domestic consumers - is lower than Chennai’s Rs.15, Delhi’s Rs.10.50 or Bangalore’s Rs.9 paid to state-run utilities. And the JUSCO rate is the same as that in Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Former Tata Steel driver Bishan Singh has both connections running - from JUSCO as well as from the state government - and uses the clean water only for drinking. One valve keeps his JUSCO water bill down to about Rs.50 a month, a trick copied by many of his neighbours.

Down the main road of Shastri Nagar, leprosy-afflicted Naresh Sau could not afford the JUSCO water connection. It has still been a boon for his family - his wife can now get drinking water from the neighbours next door instead of having to go to the end of the lane and queue up.

Neighbourhood electrician Shivnath Choudhury lives in a large building that houses 13 families. They pooled their money to take one water supply connection from JUSCO.

“The total bill comes to about Rs.600 a month, which is very good for so many people getting clean water any time of the day or night,” says Choudhury.

Armed with this experience, JUSCO is approaching municipalities all over India.

“The biggest hurdle we face is the prevailing mindset,” says Paul. “We are providing perfectly clean water that is cheaper when you take all costs into account. The trouble is there are so few people willing to understand that.”

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at joydeep.g@ians.in)

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