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Urban Infra | Practice: Managing the flow

Urban Infra | Practice: Managing the flow

YR Nagaraja delineates how ULBs should be empowered so that the new focus on building efficiency can be properly addressed.

In India's anxiety to achieve high economic growth rates, provision of basic services continues to remain inadequate and infra­structural maintenance is poor. It is imperative to manage this rapid urba­nisation efficiently through increased invest­ments, effective cap­acity building programmes, strong institutional reforms, and effecting a change in perception and recognition of resource scarcity. It is the right time to focus on managing con­sumption through imp­roved water manage­ment tech­niques and prac­tices. Localisation of respo­nsibility will be critical.

The focus in the past year has been on increased political willingness to strengthen reforms, better water governance, build insti­tutional framework, rationalise tariff structures, and improve service delivery. Private partici­pation, not limited to project implementation but also including technical tie-ups for sharing knowledge and building capability, has incre­ased in the last year.
From creating entity to enhancing quality: The focus in the sector is gradually shifting from assets creation to service delivery, and so investment opportunities in the future will be oriented towards performance and efficiency improvement. In this endeavour, Public-Pri­vate Partnership (PPP) can better the effi­cien­cies in service delivery and for better costing.

It is crucial to delineate urban water supply and sanitation (UWSS) functions from the other services and to treat UWSS as a comm­ercial service. An essential step would be sepa­rating the accounts of the autonomous service providers from those of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to which they report.

Cities are now required to notify their existing service levels and publish their imp­rovements targets. About 1,500 cities have already done so. In the coming years, impro­vements in the existing strategies, innovation of new technologies to improve the quality and reuse of treated domestic water for conservation of resource will be the major challenges. It is vital that these initiatives are built upon.

Given the enormous challenges of urbani­sation and industrialisation in the Indian eco­nomy, the government will have to play a major role by empowering ULBs, both fun­ctionally and financially. Going forward, the water sector is likely to see increased and effi­cient gover­nance; a sharper focus on capacity creation, be it institutional or skill development; and an increased focus on reforms aimed at providing financial autonomy to ULBs and encouraging private sector parti­cipation; stronger institu­tional mechanisms such as resource regulation and tariff regulation of water as an increasingly scarce resource and a resultant regulatory em­phasis on its sustain­able use.

The 12th Five Year Plan period will be crucial for the urban water sector. The backlog of investments has not yet been overcome; the focus on service outcomes needs to be main­streamed; and institutional reforms are urgently needed. If the recommendations of the High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) report are adopted and if a new improved Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is launched, attempts to fulfil this agenda are likely to gain momentum.

Learning: The biggest mismatch in the urban water segment has been that while building and managing assets, the Centre and
the states have often been bypassing the local bodies. The empowerment and shift of onus to city authorities, though, is coming.

The author is Managing Director, Ramky Infrastructure.

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