With women water warriors on ground, this Pune startup streamlines PCMC water billing systems

Cranberry Analytics collaborated with the local Mahila – Bachat Gat and recruited an all-women team of water meter inspectors who they trained to read meters and bill consumers on the spot.

As the pandemic drove everybody into their homes, a team of women water warriors continued working on ground. As part of Pune-based startup — Cranberry Analytics — they worked to track water consumption in Pimpri-Chinchwad so that people would receive the correct bills.

Working with a mobile app, clad in masks and gloves, these water meter inspectors comprise of women from the community and they identify and flag issues such as non-metered or unauthorised connections, among others.

These meter inspectors have been among Cranberry Analytics’ foot soldiers for almost as long as the company has been working with PCMC. Cranberry Analytics became concerned with water billing after they received an incorrect water bill from PCMC in 2012. On contacting PCMC office for bill rectification, they had a first-hand experience on how long can it take to get a complaint processed regarding the same.

“This led to our digging into why we faced such a problem in the first place. Although the primary issue in PCMC seemed to be inflated and incorrect water bills, on further investigation we realised that most of the consumers which were getting billed were not getting billed as per their actual consumption and on further study we discovered that a huge cross-section of consumers were not getting billed at all, resulting in dwindling revenues and water wastage. This was not a PCMC specific issue, it’s a common scenario across every other city in India.” says Shishir Thakur, co-founder, Cranberry Analytics. Cranberry Analytics came on board for PCMC, undertaking field operations and software systems development for the civic body and redirecting PCMC’s previous meter inspectors towards bill recoveries, among other measures. In the last eight years, the startup has been working to overhaul of the system.

“We have eliminated a majority of non-metered and unauthorised connections in the PCMC area. Non-metered connections, which numbered 27,888 in 2011-12 in the region, have been reduced to less than 974 connections. This has enabled a significant increase in both water bill distribution in the region that caters to a population of 23 lakh people,” says Thakur. “The revamped billing has also helped the PCMC Water Department significantly improve its revenue collections. Revenue from metered collections has now grown to Rs 43 crores in 2019-20 from Rs 23.6 crores in 2011-12. Using analytics provided by us, PCMC has also been able to improve their water distribution processes” he adds.

Involving women has been a critical part of the process. Cranberry Analytics collaborated with the local Mahila – Bachat Gat and recruited an all-women team of water meter inspectors who they trained to read meters and bill consumers on the spot. “We found that these women learnt quickly and were reliable and dedicated. Since water billing was a completely new process for PCMC, and water meters were, many times, situated inside the houses, citizens were not always co-operative with a person coming in their house to take meter readings. An-all women team really helped in convincing residents thus reducing this initial friction,” says Thakur.

Cranberry Analytics has continued with the same team of 75 meter inspector from last eight years.

“After their initial training, they became an integral part of this project and consider themselves as water warriors contributing to the cause of water conservation. In addition to taking water meter readings and pictures, they have been very active in educating citizens about the importance of water conservation and the ways in which they can contribute. Over the last eight years, we have seen them contributing significantly to their households financially which has increased their confidence while improving their socio-economic status. Their children can now go to better schools and a few of these women are now chief wage earners of their families,” says Thakur.

Cranberry Analytics is now looking for investors to enable a rapid expansion in the rest of the country along with places which have water scarcity such as the Middle East and Africa.

“As for PCMC, the solutions that we have developed are quite comprehensive. We are now planning to expand these solutions to create an Integrated Water Management System, which includes water billing, water budgeting, water analytics and the instrumentation aspect of it using sensors and industrial IoT devices. We are already in talks with a few state level entities for a larger implementation of these solutions,” says Thakur.

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