Apartment residents often are unaware of how much water they consume in their household. A common water meter installed by the BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) measures consumption of the entire apartment complex, but not of individual flats. The monthly water bill based on this meter is usually split evenly among all residents.
But, in May 2020, BWSSB introduced a new regulation that mandates internal water meters for every flat in apartment complexes. Each apartment is responsible for installing these meters within their premises.
Individual water meters compulsory, but no penalty yet
According to the new regulation 43-A added to BWSSB Water Supply Regulations, 1965, internal water meters should be installed in:
- all existing buildings with three or more houses, located in sital area of 2,400 sq ft or more, and
- upcoming buildings with three or more houses, located in sital area of 1,200 sq ft or more
This is for “judicious consumption of water”, and should be done within the date notified by the state government, says the regulation. It adds that readings of the internal meters shouldn’t be used for calculating BWSSB bills, or to dispute BWSSB’s bulk meter reading in any legal proceedings. The regulations currently don’t mention any penalty for non-implementation.
K N Rajiv, the Additional Chief Engineer at BWSSB, says the regulation has been approved by the state government and published in the gazette. “It is already being enforced for upcoming apartments – the builder has to provide internal meters, to get water connection for the apartment.
However, existing apartments will be given more time for implementation. “Such apartments, especially older ones, may have some difficulties with installation. Also, with COVID now, it’s not easy for them to implement it quickly. That’s why there’s no penalty clause now,” says Rajiv “But, once the state government notifies the timeline for implementation, a penalty clause will be added in the regulation.”
Rajiv says there were two reasons for making internal metering compulsory: “One, water consumption will reduce. The apartment association will come to know of the consumption of each flat, and they can tell those consuming more, to reduce it. The other reason is that we got complaints from many apartment residents that they were having to pay for more than what they consumed – even when some flats consume more, everyone has to pay the same amount. With internal metering, such disputes will stop.”
Apartment associations not even aware of new rules, not prepared
Vikram Rai, General Secretary of BAF (Bangalore Apartments’ Federation), a collective of nearly 1000 apartment associations in the city, says they hardly knew about the new rule and hence have not discussed it. “BWSSB has not yet discussed the rule with apartment associations or made them aware of it.”
Over the years, some apartment associations in Bengaluru have voluntarily implemented internal metering so as to conserve water. However, Vikram says this comes to only around 10% of BAF’s member apartments. While BAF itself has been encouraging internal metering in its member apartments, many of them face challenges.
Prasanna K V, BAF Vice President, says, “Many of the older apartments – say, those 15 years old – have GI pipes and often they would be already corroded. So installing meters on them makes no sense. Besides, each flat would have 3-4 water inlets, so a water meter would have to be put on each inlet. The main issue is that 99% of apartments in Bengaluru were not designed keeping internal metering in mind.”
Prasanna says that under the capex (upfront payment) model, the cost of a water meter usually comes to Rs 7,000-8,000. “So if a 200-unit apartment has to install 600 water meters (three meters per flat), the cost would be huge. If any re-piping has to be done, there would be plumbing charges too. The vendor has to do continued maintenance as well.”
For ease of meter reading and other advantages, some apartments have opted for smart meters or digital meters. But those can also be problematic.
“We are getting many complaints from member apartments (after installing digital metering) — the vendor is not providing appropriate maintenance and services, and so on. This is an indication that the technology in this space is still unstable, which means the overheads for apartments that implement it will be huge. Also, the investment can vary widely between apartments depending on the type of apartment, existing plumbing, etc.,” says Vikram.
However, both Vikram and Prasanna are clear about the benefits of metering. “We are not against metering; in fact, that’s the direction we all want to go in. But BWSSB is implementing the rule in a top-down manner, without considering the challenges and without taking apartment associations into confidence. If apartments are simply asked to implement metering, along with penalty clauses, it will only lead to resentment and court cases,” says Vikram.
Here’s how some apartments installed water meters
In Mahaveer Seasons apartment in HSR Layout, which is also part of BAF, internal metering was implemented about three years ago. It reduced water consumption by 30-35%, says apartment resident Kamesh Rastogi. But the implementation did come with some initial challenges in this 120-unit complex. The apartment had been built around 2005, and there was no separate piping to individual houses, which is necessary to measure consumption by each flat.
“Each flat had 3-4 water inlets, and the vendor recommended fixing a water meter for each inlet,” says Kamesh. The vendor’s quote came to Rs 15.6 lakh, which was not approved in the apartment’s General Body Meeting. The apartment association then formed a task force to study the possibilities of metering.
Kamesh says, “We checked our existing plumbing system, got inputs from our in-house plumbers, and brainstormed. Eventually, we decided to get our in-house plumbers to do re-piping; it was needed anyway because the GI pipes had already corroded. We removed the external GI pipes and replaced them with PVC pipes that would directly go from the overhead tank to each flat.” With this, each flat had only one water inlet and required only one meter. The overall metering cost came down to Rs 9.5 lakh (that is, around Rs 8,000 per flat) – a reduction of about 40% from the vendor’s quote.
Kamesh’s apartment installed mechanical meters that measure water flow, and transmit the data to an app that gives real-time consumption data to each user. While the system has largely worked well, “sometimes the app doesn’t show data. Another issue is that, a couple of times the water was too hard, which led to the meter getting blocked, which then blocked the water supply,” he says.
Sundale Apartments, a 26-unit complex in Ulsoor, implemented metering about two years ago. Water consumption reduced by at least 30%, and even up to 50% in the case of some flats, says resident Avinash Hegde. Power consumption for pumping water has also reduced substantially. Here too, the piping had to be changed as it was old and because each flat had 4-5 inlets. The cost came to around Rs 20,000 per apartment. As per Avinash’s calculations, in another year, there would be returns on investment, due to the water and power savings.
In the case of this apartment, the challenge was to find the right technology. Since mechanical meters could get clogged due to hard water, they opted for ultrasonic meters from a Chennai-based vendor. Currently, there are very few players offering technology other than mechanical meters, says Avinash.
In addition to the initial costs, both apartments have an Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC) with the meter vendor.
What’s the way forward?
Vikram Rai says the solution is for BWSSB to have consultative engagement with all stakeholders before the policy is implemented: “If there are discussions with apartment associations, vendors and builders’ associations, implementation would be smoother. BAF could be co-opted into these policy decisions, as was done in the case of curating the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules. Perhaps, BWSSB can ask BAF to do a survey of installations done so far, maybe builders need some standardisation for plumbing and metering technology during construction – all these can happen only with discussions.”
Kamesh Rastogi says BWSSB should leave the method of implementation to apartments, but “provide standards for the technology that could be adopted, how plumbing can be done, etc. They can probably empanel some vendors too.” However, Kamesh and many others believe that the Board doesn’t have a clear understanding of the issue. BWSSB Chairman N Jayaram was unavailable for comment.
- People can and do change, with the right kind of behavioural intervention
- 12 years after Bengaluru’s water board made RWH a rule, how are we doing in harvesting rainwater?
[Errata: This article had incorrectly referred to Vikram Rai as the President of BAF, this has been corrected. Errors in the caption and credit of the cover image have also been corrected.]