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Benchmarking of Urban Water and Sanitation Facilities Gains Momentum in India

"Benchmarking would be helpful, as it is a quantifiable approach for evaluating service levels, identifying parameters which affect service delivery, and quantifying projections for improvement of services. Thus, it can be a powerful tool for water utilities, and particularly the JNNURM, to monitor and analyze progress on a sustainable basis.”  -Mr. M. Rajamani, Joint Secretary & Mission Director (JNNURM), Ministry of Urban Development  (MoUD)

Benchmarking involves identifying industry best practices, measuring and comparing one’s own performance against others, identifying key areas for improvement and upgrading to match the best. In fact benchmarking is emerging as an important tool to improve services. Governments across South Asia are realizing that availability of reliable performance information is the key to quantifying and targeting improvements. With this recognition, governments are initiating innovative programs to encourage cities to benchmark their water services on a regular basis.  The government is also working on a rewards program to recognize the cities that are making efforts to improve their information and monitoring systems.  

In India, the Water and Sanitation Program-South Asia (WSP-SA), in partnership with MoUD, Government of India, initiated a project for collection and analysis of performance data from over 20 cities in two phases.

In Phase I, performance data was collected for 13 utilities in 23 cities and towns, covering a population of almost 50 million. From this data, a detailed analysis was carried out to identify key performance trends across utilities. This helped raise awareness of relative performance amongst utilities and stakeholders, initiate a critical debate among them on the sustainability of a benchmarking program in India and identify areas for improvement.  

In Phase II, data was collected from ten JNNURM cities.Whereas Phase I emphasized testing the methodology, the second phase analyzed the quality of underlying information systems. The findings highlighted significant gaps in quality and reliability of data that make it difficult to carry out a meaningful performance assessment.  

WSP shared these findings at a workshop organized in partnership with MoUD. Stressing the importance of improved performance measurement and benchmarking, Mr. M. Rajamani, Joint Secretary & Mission Director (JNNURM), MoUD, said, “There is a huge gap between data and ground reality. Utilities are characterized by lack of data, customer confidence and public participation, absence of a proper policy and a citizens’ charter; and lack of accountability and sustainable management models. Benchmarking would be helpful, as it is a quantifiable approach for evaluating service levels, identifying parameters which affect service delivery, and quantifying projections for improvement of services. Thus, it can be a powerful tool for water utilities, and particularly the JNNURM, to monitor and analyze progress on a sustainable basis.” Mr. M Ramachandran, Secretary, MoUD, stressing the need for moving ahead quickly, said "The electricity sector was in a similar situation a few years back. Accountability has been brought into the sector to a large extent. This has not been driven by government reforms alone. We should not wait for proposed reforms till the end of the mission; rather, ensure that the benchmarking initiative starts simultaneously. This would help us see the results and make a difference to the sector."  

The MoUD is committed to institutionalizing benchmarking under the JNNURM, and extending it to all 63 JNNURM cities. WSP-SA is supporting the MoUD in design and implementation of the program.   Given the state of the services in South Asia, benchmarking could play a key role in improving delivery of urban water services. To bring about performance improvements, it is imperative that benchmarking is sustainable and carried out as part of an overall performance improvement framework. For such initiatives to have lasting success, they need to have:

  • Ownership and commitment by utilities underpinned by an appropriate incentive framework
  • A robust organization to design, coordinate and implement the benchmarking program
  • Technical support and capacity-building for utilities to implement the suggestions for improvement.  

Given the demonstrated potential of benchmarking as an effective tool for performance monitoring and formulating performance improvement programs, Water Utility Benchmarking is also being launched in Pakistan and Bangladesh with WSP support.

Contact Name: 
Anupam Sharma
Contact Email: 
wspsa@worldbank.org