Contextualising urban water supply in a changing environment: India Urban Conference, November 17-20 2011

The India Urban Conference (IUC) was organised to encourage multi-level dialogue regarding India's urban transformation.

It aimed to set the challenges faced by urban planners in the current economic, socio-political, and ecological landscape. This would enable informed and negotiated choices on urban development. The stated objectives of the conference are as follows:

  • To make urban, applied research relevant to an increased spectrum of stakeholders including academics, civil societies, policy think tanks, research institutes, media, private sector, and citizens.
  • To leverage experience to generate useful evidence to promote applied research and responsive policy-making.
  • To create new research initiatives and/ or collaborations with a potential for creating tangible changes/ reforms for the benefit of urban India and its context.
  • To identify and explore research issues affecting urban India, by exploring through a perspective of eight selected themes.
  • Publish research papers and evidence presented/ discussed in the form of case-books, web publications, and potentially a special issue of a journal.

One of the thematic areas was urban water. Hosted by Arghyam, these discussions aimed to initiate dialogue both on the current urban water situation and development alternatives.

The following presentations were made:

Plenary 1: Urban water resources: Taking stock

  • Mainstreaming groundwater in urban planning - Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni

Statistics indicate an increasing dependence on groundwater among developing cities, both due to growth in the cities as also due to increase in water use. This has led to a decline in groundwater levels and in groundwater quality. The relationships between groundwater and urban water-sanitation systems as defined by the underlying geology of cities is illustrated in this presentation.The various inputs required to make integrating groundwater into urban planning are delineated.

  • Urban water institutions - Models, gaps and new challenges – Malini Shankar

While urbanization is on the rise in India, there is an existing inequitability when it comes to access to water supply. Maharashtra is taken as a case study, and the reforms implemented in the areas of water supply, sewage, and solid waste are discussed. The service delivery in Maharashtra is compared to  a benchmark (though the source of the benchmark is not referenced) and analysed. Reform components and the strategies adopted to implement them are detailed. The presentation ends with highlighting the increasing urban-rural divide, which has already escalated to conflict in certain areas.

  • Water management in industry: Lessons from the CII Awards for Excellence – L.S. Ganapati

This presentation focuses on the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and it's efforts towards water conservation. A summary of the awards presented by the confederation, and the salient points of the winning contributions are described. This presentation has several slides that illustrate the cost of water (municipal, river and borewell) in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttarkhand, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana. Statistics collected by CII indicate a 14% reduction in water consumption and a 11% increase in recycling of waste water since the last 5 years. 6 examples of water conservation are discussed.

Plenary 2: Urban water institutions: Models, gaps and new challenges

  • Creating enabling conditions for governance reforms in urban water institutions - Dr. A.P. Tiwari

This presentation speculates that the existing water crisis is a manifestation of a governance crisis, with decentralization being crucial to its resolution. The existing structre for urban water supply and sanitation is discussed. HUDCO is placed to resolve the challenges facing governance challenges, and the various innovations supported by HUDCO are listed.

  • Performance assessment systems for improved service delivery - Dr. Meera Mehta

A large part of JNNURM funding is dedicated to urban water supply and sanitation. While these projects have been implemented, therefore implying coverage, little is know of the quality, equitability, and financial sustainability of the work done. Therefore, there is a need to move away from reform linked to outcome linked funding. Details of a sustainable performance assessment system that focuses on equitability, financial viability, performance monitoring are presented. This allows for improved 360-degree accountability. The indicators used, data collection methodology, presentation techniques, and application for decision making are all detailed.

  • Urban water institutions: Myth of decentralisation and devolution - Dr. V. Suresh

The current technology-based and centralized manner of water management has several shortcomings, including those of inequitable distribution, exclusion of marginalized groups, and ecological un-sustainability. The process of democratising the water sector, the attitude adjustment it requires, are detailed. The result of workshops held among the TWAD engineers resulted in the 'Maraimalainagar declaration' which stipulated that the engineers would focus on maintenance and optimization of existing schemes, especially of traditional sources wherever possible before constructing new schemes. The impact of this democratization process is also explained.

Deep Dive 1: Universalizing sanitation: Efficacy of schemes and barriers to implementation

  • Overview of urban sanitation in India - Pavan Kumar Ankinapalli

Statistical information that provides an idea of the state of urban sanitation is presented, including the costs incurred due to poor sanitation, environment impacts, inequitability of access, and challenges due to increasing urbanization. Changing urban policies and schemes over the last three decades are discussed, as are suggestions for improving urban sanitation in the future.

  • ILCS & community toilets: Experiences of a Karnataka town - Manjunatha Prasad

As part of an action research project, ILCS was implemented in Mulbagal, Karnataka. The status of existing community toilets, the adopted approach to revise the defunct community toilets and the results of this approach are detailed. The various issues that prevent the effective implementation of urban sanitation, and the means of overcoming these challenges are discussed.

  • Honeysuckers - Sanitation without pipes - S Vishwanath

Inadequate and inefficient municipal sewage treatment systems lead to a host of environmental and health issues. The citizens of Bangalore have come up with a decentralised and entrepreneurial sewage treatment system that seems to be winning on all counts: financial, equitable, ecologically friendly, and beneficent to a large array of stakeholders. This presentation details the system of mobile septic tank cleaners or 'honey suckers'.

Deep Dive 2: Understanding groundwater

  • Role of scientific studies in managing urban groundwater quantity aspects: The experience with Mulbagal, Karnataka – Prof. Shekar Muddu

Urban groundwater is part of a very complex system with multilateral dependencies.These dependencies pose several questions, the answers to which require dedicated research. The study conducted in Mulbagal aimed to determine the variation in groundwater, groundwater balance, and factors controlling sustainable groundwater use. The results of this study are presented, and the implications for groundwater management explored.

  • Sustainable water management: Nexus between groundwater quality and sanitation practice – Prof. Sudhakar Rao

Urban dependence on groundwater, and decrease in availability of this resource (both through contamination and over-exploitation) create a vicious cycle, which can be mitigated by proper attention to sanitation. Groundwater management in Mulbagal is discussed, with emphasis on the e-coli reduction.

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