Water for Indian Cities: Government Practices and Policy Concerns

The demand for basic infrastructure and services in Indian cities has increased phenomenally due to rapidly growing populations. Such unmet demands often adversely affect the quality of urban life, the economic productivity, as well as the process of sustainable development. The main purpose of this brief is to highlight the problems involved in improving access to water supply in Indian cities faced with a severe water shortage crisis. A case study approach is followed, and the status of water supply service is described for three large cities of India, namely Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The author argues that there exists an immediate need to build up the water infrastructure and institutions, and points out that the challenge for stakeholders lies in speeding up the reform process and in the replication/implementation of efficient water governance practices.

Migration from rural areas and small towns to cities is quite common in India. Such movement is generally associated with the level of economic and social development of a place. Employment and education among males and marriage among the females are important reasons for migration. All-India data show that during the decade 1991-2001, more than 20 million persons moved from rural to urban areas, and nearly 15 million moved from one town to another (Census of India, 2001: 15).

As a result of this movement, city populations have grown phenomenally over the years. During 1991-2001, the proportion of in-migrants to the total population of Delhi urban agglomeration (UA) was 16.4 %. It was 15.1 % in the case of Greater Mumbai UA, 13.4 % in Bangalore UA, 8.7 % in Hyderabad UA, 6.6 % in Chennai UA and 6.2 % in Kolkata UA (Census of India, 2001: 18). In addition to migrants, there is a sizeable working population living in the adjoining areas which moves in and out of the city on a daily basis. Due to a high concentration of population in cities, there is a huge demand for infrastructure and services, such as housing, public transport, electricity, water supply, sanitation, sewerage, drainage and solid waste management.

Several indicators have been identified to understand the availability and quality of drinking water in an
area. A basic indicator included in the Indian Census is the 'proportion of population/households having access to safe drinking water'. Although the definition of 'safe drinking water' has been spelled out, there is strong criticism by analysts on the high proportions of the population being considered under the 'safe drinking water' category. In this respect, it is argued that while sources of safe drinking water have been listed, sufficient steps are not being taken by the service providing agencies to test the quality of water obtained from such sources at frequent intervals. Sample surveys are also conducted from time to time covering the whole of the Indian Union (with the exception of some remote areas) to collect information on the source and condition of drinking water.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) Directorate has identified a list of nine service level benchmarks in respect of water supply services in order to review the performance of service delivery agencies. The indicators are: 'coverage of water supply connections'; 'per capita supply of water'; 'extent of metering of water connections'; 'extent of non-revenue water'; 'continuity of water
supply'; 'quality of water supplied'; 'efficiency in redressal of customer complaints'; 'cost recovery in water supply services'; and 'efficiency in collection of water supply-related charges'.

A recent study conducted by WHO and UNICEF (2010: 43) reveals that in 2008, 96 % of India's urban population was using an improved drinking-water source . Of this total, one-half (48 %) had piped supply on premises and the remaining used other improved sources. According to the study, about 4 % of the population was using drinking-water from unimproved sources. The data compiled by the Census of India (2001) showed that 90 % of the households in urban India had access to safe drinking water facilities. Most Indian States fell under the 70 – 99 % category but percentages in many north eastern States and in Kerala were less than 60 %. A sample survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (1999: ii) during January to June 1998 revealed that 91 % of the urban households in the country were served by tap, tubewell or handpump. The survey also showed that almost one-half (46 %) of the urban households reported boiling (11 %) and filtering (35 %) of drinking water before consumption.

The main purpose of this brief is to highlight the problems involved in improving access to water supply in Indian cities faced with a severe water shortage crisis. A case study approach is followed, and the status of water supply service is described for three large cities of India, namely Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The brief argues that there exists an immediate need to build up the water infrastructure and institutions, and points out that the challenge for stakeholders lies in speeding up the reform process and in the replication/implementation of efficient water governance practices.

People

Rumi Aijaz