Water poverty in urban India - A study of major cities - A seminar paper - Tata Institute of Social Sciences

This seminar paper submitted for the UGC Summer Programme at the Jamia Millia Islamia University describes the findings of a study that explored the quantity of water used in domestic households vis-à-vis the recommended quantity of water consumption in seven major Indian cities, namely, Delhi, Kanpur, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Madurai. The study also attempted to find out equity in consumption of water across various socio-economic groups, sources of water supply, perception of households about quality of municipal water, and duration of municipal water supply. 

In India, with development, the demand for water is increasing both in urban and rural areas. This has threatened to create increased tension and dispute between these areas for sharing and control over the limited water resources. The emerging scarcity of water has also raised a host of issues related to sustainability of the present pattern of economic development, sustainability of water supply, equity and social justice, water financing, pricing, governance and management.

The study conducted a household survey, to find out the consumption, availability, access and methods adopted for conservation of water in domestic households in the seven major Indian cities in March 2005. The data was collected through structured schedules and the respondents selected were housewives.

The study found that:

  • Water consumption in Indian cities (more so in large cities) is far lower than the norms laid down by Bureau of Indian Standards. The lower consumption results mainly because the water supply is not keeping pace with population growth and increasing needs of users
  • Athough a majority of households consume water below the specified norms, they, by and large, show satisfaction with the available supply. This is mainly because they have delimited their aspirations and requirements for water in relation to the available supply from the concerned municipalities or water authorities
  • Household activities like washing clothes, bathing, use in toilets, and washing dishes and utensils are the most water consuming activities in the cities under consideration. It has also been found that in these cities, a majority of the households perceive the above activities as most water wasting activities.
  • Thus given appropriate and affordable technologies to save water in specified activities, the households would be willing to adopt them. There exists a large scope for reducing water consumption in washing clothes by adopting appropriate soap/detergents and machines; and in toilets by changing and modifying the flushing system.
  • An awareness campaign about the best practices in these activities can play a big role in saving precious water
  • The availability and mode of use of water varies across the socioeconomic classes within the cities. However, the difference is not very high with higher classes consuming  20 litres more as compared  the lower socioeconomic classes.
  • City-wise variations in the supply and quality of water are very much visible.The study reveals that only about 18% of the total households in these cities get 24 hours municipal water supply. 
  • The erratic and limited duration of supply of water has become a common phenomenon in these cities. This has forced the households, in majority of the cities, to depend on groundwater and other sources of water, like the private vendors who supply water through tankers and drums. These, in turn, are leading to depletion of groundwater due to over withdrawal by the burgeoning population and emerging water markets

A copy of this paper can be accessed from this link: