Dr Smita Misra, Lead Water and Sanitation Specialist, South Asia Sustainable Development Unit, World Bank tells Garima Pant how empowerment of Panchayati Raj institutions and Urban Local Bodies can ensure better water and sanitation management programmes in the country.
How would you describe the current scenario in water and wastewater management in both urban and well as rural settings? India has invested heavily in terms of infrastructure creation, which is assets creation. So there are large schemes with a lot of funding, which is maybe $4 billion a year if you look at the rural programme and it could be $6-$8 billion if you look at the urban water programme. But unfortunately this has not translated into services. So while there has been a lot of emphasis whether you take the national programme on rural water supply or you take JNNURM where the focus has been on asset creation and providing large infrastructure, the focus has not been so much on service delivery.
And whether the water really reaches the end consumer. None of us drinks directly from the tap and we rely on mineral water, RO plants and filters. And that's the typical scenario in urban India today. Most households in urban India are using some kind of a filter plant. And every household has some pumping system to maintain their personal 24/7 water supply. The issue really is that the public system is not working, so the coping costs are so high and every household has invested in the system to fend for themselves. The same thing is true in the rural areas. There they have to walk a lot to fetch water. Hand pumps have been provided and if you see the coverage, census 2011 gives 31 per cent tap water coverage whether it's urban or rural, implying more than 70 per cent of the population do not even have tap water and they are left fending for water.
What would be the biggest lacuna when it comes to water management? What are the issues that require immediate attention? It's the institutions. We need institutions which are accountable,and which have the mandate to provide water to the consumers. Accountability is the key here. So governance and accountability is the need of the hour. If you look at institutions, most of the states have large monopolies and these do not have the incentive to start looking at service delivery. So how do we get the institutions closest to the people so that they are accountable? This is where the biggest challenge lies. How do we build capacity with the urban local bodies in the urban sector, how do we make them professional so that they are adequately equipped to actually implement cost effective schemes? But very few states have empowered the PRIs or got the mandate for the PRIs to look at the water delivery and sanitation management.
Is there any Indian state where water management has been effectively managed? In the urban sector there are cities which are managing better than the others. We have the three city example in Karnataka -- Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, and Gulbarga which is providing 24/7 water supply in specific parts of the city. And currently there is a project of scaling up the water supply services to the rest of the city. So how do we get to a 24/7 supply which is easily doable? Water availability is not a question but it's the efficient usage and transmission and ensuring service delivery which also involve reducing non-revenue water, these are the main challenges.
What are the various roadblocks you have encountered in the water segment? Incentives are the major issue in the Indian water segment. While there is a lot of funding, it's like pouring water in a leaking bucket. There is a lot of infrastructure that has been created but there are no incentives to ensure that every penny is translated into services. Major issue is the non-revenue water which is almost 60 per cent in Delhi, the physical losses and the financial losses in terms of billing, metering, coverage etc.
Are there any policy changes or interventions that could make things better? There are large programmes from the Centre to the state. Why can't we use these as incentive funds, possibly converting loans to grants for achieving specific results? Rather than just a simple grant, why can't it be an incentive-linked reform programme which incentivises the states to start focusing on service delivery?