Every year, you read about droughts, water shortage, human suffering due to dry summers. But, so far, it has been a cycle.

This time though, India is hitting Day Zero. By 2020, government think-tank Niti Aayog estimates, India’s water crisis will be a full-blown pandemic: at least 21 Indian cities will completely run out of groundwater. Just to put that into perspective, the deadline is now a few short months away.

Some are trying to find a solution. On short notice.

Vivek Shukla has just driven back to Bengaluru from Chennai, where he had a string of meetings—from dawn to dusk—with irate apartment owners and resident welfare associations (RWAs). “The water situation in Chennai is really alarming. Some apartments haven’t received water for days. Even the tankers have given up,” says Shukla, referring to the nexus of private water tankers that supply water to urban areas that fall outside the ambit of municipal pipelines.

Chennai is one among the 20+ cities at the cusp of this dangerous, gutting water crisis. Shukla, an entrepreneur, teamed up with his ex-Wipro colleague Kasturi Rangan in 2014, to launch Smarter Homes—a start-up that supplies high-tech water meters-which can accurately measure consumption at an apartment level. Smarter Homes is aimed at urban residential high-rises which are quickly populating the IT corridors of Indian cities.

The aim for start-ups like Smarter Homes is to meter every inlet (source of water) going into an apartment, and measure consumption at each unit’s level. This way, residents pay for exactly how much they consume.

“In the long run, linking price to consumption will reduce the overall use of water,” claims Shukla confidently. At last count, Smarter Homes had helped bring down water consumption by 35% in the residential buildings they work in.

Shukla and Rangan brought their decades-long experience in product development and services to the water conservation space. Starting from a one-room rental and two-person team, their start-up, five years later, employs over 100 people. With the water crisis looming, Shukla’s team had to set up a toll-free helpline to handle the volume of daily enquiries, which has jumped 100% since March. “We’re not just meter providers. We’re trying to solve the entire metering problem, end to end,’ goes Shukla’s pitch.

Water conservation, so far, has been a litany of well-meaning nudges. Taking shorter showers. Harvesting rainwater. Making taps trickle. However, most measures have focused on increasing supply. Smart metering finally breaks that jaded model of thinking and focuses on curbing demand.

However potent the promise of metering, flipping crisis to commercial opportunity has been far from easy. Over a few hundred thousand installations, smart metering start-ups have had to tailor their meters, their pricing plans and business model, and buttress their operational costs by raising investments from a variety of funders—real estate giants, landscaping companies, banks and even tech firms.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.