Home » Wake up call from experts: User charges and recycling not optional anymore

Wake up call from experts: User charges and recycling not optional anymore

Wake up call from experts: User charges and recycling not optional anymore

The Urban Development Ministry's Mission for 2011-through 2016 is to “promote cities as engines of economic growth”. This includes facilitating the creation of basic urban infrastructure relating to water supply, sanitation and urban transport to improve service levels and coverage by 2017. India is in a “water-stressed” situation. At our rate of growth and urban migration patterns, this basically means the light is amber and is likely to be red in a few decades.

The total water supply of Class-I Cities and Class-II Towns in combination is just over 48,000 MLD at a national average of 120 LD per capita, with the land of five perennial rivers, Punjab, topping the list at 170 LD per capita. In contrast, in the United States, the national average is 371 LD per capita, the highest in the world, double that of Western Europe. In Australia, whose climate and geography is perhaps more comparable with India's, that figure is over 315 LD.

There is a crying need for water and wastewater management among cities for several reasons:

1. Pollution of rivers and even groundwater is no longer a hazard: it is a dire reality, and a collaborated effort is badly required between industries and cities to clean up their act, so to speak.
2. Harnessing water as a supplement to generating it. Only 38 per cent of our cities has access to sanitary services.
3. Creating sustainable and viable solutions including curtailing non-revenue water, which forms a major part of the wastage.

At the 2nd H2O India Conference 2011, held in Mumbai on 19-20 April, experts agreed that the problems are not real: they lie in lackadaisical implementation, which has spiralled into lukewarm private participation. Whether the issue belongs to Union, State or concurrent seems to be one of the biggest among the bottlenecks. With all its hiccups, more than 60 per cent of JNNURM's allocation has been towards water resources in urban India. Union Minister of State for Water Resources Vincent H Pala, who was the Chief Guest at the conference, called for providing “multifaceted solutions with appropriate tools” including a combined endeavour of enabling legislations, stakeholder participation, efficient institutions, innovative technologies, investments.

Organisers of the conference said that the conference's focus was on ensuring takeaways, and was aimed not just to raise the right questions, but to offer the right solutions—practical and implementable. A report, Bringing water to your doorstep: Urban water reforms for the next decade, a report and recommendations book co-authored by PwC and ASAPP Media, was released on the occasion, and presented to the Minister. With cities like Nagpur, Tirupur, Jamshedpur, Mysore and a handful of others taking the lead in water or wastewater management, many more cities are investing their time and energy into water and wastewater management. As PPP brews on the horizon in the sector, the only viable proposition for the sector is employ user charges and invest widely in treated water supply and the requisite infrastructure. “We need to increasingly focus on demand-driven approaches,” Pala said.

But as the buzz picks up, our cities seem to suffer from lack of capital to match JNNURM grants. They also need training and help through the process of PPP, and there are several agencies working on it already, speakers said.

Delegates, who hailed from city and state governments to technology providers and advisory and research companies, said such platforms are direly needed in more cities. “We need such awareness programmes in our districts,” said Mugdha Sinha, District Collector, Sriganganagar, Rajasthan. “Although the conference was about urban water, the ideas can be implemented across the urban-rural landscape.” Speaker and session chair Ramani Iyer of Forbes Marshall, who is on the Standards Council of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and on the 12th Plan Committee for Drinking and Urban Water Supply (which met in New Delhi a day later under the chairmanship of Dr Sunita Narain, Director, Centre of Science and Environment), said the approach of the conference was “different” in that it focused on the content and seemed serious in intent. CH Dharmendra, Senior Engineer for Infrastructure at Parsons Brinckerhoff India, said he made many “right contacts” as the conference put service providers and clients on the same platform. He said the high level of interactivity at the conference was its hallmark. Delegates exchanged notes on various practical issues—including low private participation in water distribution and charges collection systems. They deliberated on how to draw better participation—including through better policies and incentives.

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