Water Bills- What they tell you.December 17, 2009
Water-bills- What they tell you
A bill for water may seem a dull and uninteresting document. It can however be made quite interesting and informative.. In Bengaluru if you are connected to the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board mainline, you should receive a water bill every month.
Apart from the Subdivision name, Bill number, consumer i.d and type, one important item is the Last date of payment. A small note is appended at the bottom of the bill which indicates that ‘If payment is not made before the due date steps for disconnection of supply will be initiated’. It is understood that not a single disconnection for domestic connections has been carried out so far. The penalty for late payment is also not indicated on the bill. A sign however urges you to pay on time and help BWSSB serve you better. The 24/7 kiosks of BWSSB for collection is however a global best practice which does not find mention in the bill.
Then comes the information on consumption. A ‘present reading’ in litres and a ‘previous reading’ in litres and the difference between the two indicates the consumption. Sydney waters, when it gives a bill, compares it to the average consumption across the city and lets the household know whether they are above or below average. It also lets the household know how it is doing vis-à-vis standards by flagging a red or a green signal.
Next set of items is on Water charges. This has to be read with the back page of the bill which indicates the Increasing Block Tariff. The first slab of 0-8000 litres is charged at Rs 6 a kilo-litre and the next slab 8-25,000 litres at Rs 9 per kilo-litre. That means if you have consumed 25,000 litres you pay 8 x 6 + 17 x 9 = Rs 201/- . The bill does not indicate the production cost of water which the BWSSB claims is around Rs 18 /- a kilo-litre. This would mean that the actual production cost of the 25,000 litres by the family would be Rs. 450/- and since the family pays Rs 201/- it receives a subsidy of Rs 249/- in that month. The vital information is important to let the consumer know actual costs and then to push for full cost recovery.
The next item is meter charges. Since the meter is paid for by the consumer during installation it is not clear what this meter charge is. Most probably it is the meter reading charge and if so must be clearly indicated. Sanitary charges follow and read with the back page, it indicates a flat Rs 15/- for a domestic consumption up-to 25,000 litres . The actual cost of collection and treatment is not indicated. Once this is done it would be clear as to how much a family is subsidised for sewage collection and treatment. One estimate for collection puts it at Rs 600/- or Rs 24/- a kilo-litre. This means that the household gets a subsidy of Rs 585/- every month.
The interesting item is S.C for bore-well. This a Sanitary Charge for the water consumed from the bore-well and let into the sewage lines, which then the BWSSB has to treat. This is unique to any city in India. The back page of the bill indicates a flat rate of Rs 50/- per month per individual house and for apartments also. If the BWSSB moves towards metering bore-wells it could then rationally charge on a volumetric basis incentivising less abstraction from groundwater.
Lessons: Institutions such as BWSSB and individual consumers could learn a lot from devising a communicative bill. Since a bill reaches the consumer every month it is a great communication tool for the BWSSB. Water wisdom demands that a water bill can be made interesting and a knowledge creator rather than a drab financial document. Can we move towards water wisdom then?