City Planning in India: What we need in our Water and Sanitation Policies

Posted on November 10, 2010


One of the most interesting paradoxes of city planning in India is that, in spite of being one of the most heritage rich countries of the world, India’s major historic cities are most neglected. It is evident that the larger cities have grown rapidly in terms of their population sizes, but not proportionately in terms of quality of urban services and facilities. In term of services, no Indian city provides water 24/7, only half the population has access to safe drinking water, and less than a third has access to sanitation.

The municipal solid waste (MSW) and sewage generation in India has significantly increased over the years from 6 million tons in 1947 to over 69 million tons in 2006 (National Action Plan for Climate Change-NAPCC, 2008) and is becoming a major environmental threat. It is estimated that, over the next 40 years, India will experience one of the most dramatic settlement transitions in history, as its urban population grows from about 300 million to more than 700 million (Hughes, B, et al 2006). The public services fall short largely because they have little or no accountability to the ultimate client, and outdated management systems are unable to provide the information needed for decision-making.

While discussing the urban water and sanitation issues, we should be aware that, the JNNURM (Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission for Urban development) has two very important sub missions; the ‘Urban infrastructure and Governance’, and ‘Basic services to the Urban poor’. The main thrust of former sub mission is on infrastructure projects relating to water supply, sanitation, sewerage, solid waste management, road network and urban transport, etc. The focus of sub mission ‘Basic Services to the Urban Poor’ is; integrated development of slums through projects for providing shelter, basic services and other related civic amenities with a view to providing utilities to the urban poor.

The JNNURM focuses on efficiency in urban infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms, community participation, and accountability of Urban Local Bodies, State and Parastatal agencies towards citizens. Further, the City Development Planning (CDP) formulation process is guided by a comprehensive process of planning entrusted to the ‘Urban Local Bodies’ and ‘Parastatal Agencies’ in cohesive manner, with the active participation of people at large.

Devising an appropriate sanitation polity is crucial aspect in this context, and here the national policy could be taken as guideline for further refining and defining in local context. The 12th Schedule list of the 74th Constitutional amendment of Indian constitution includes eighteen functions for the Urban Local Bodies, including; water, household and environmental sanitation. Therefore, safe management of human excreta, disposal and associated hygiene-related practices are the important component of any Sanitation Policy.

Following are two important considerations during policy formulation in urban context:

  • There should be provisions to make the community and its representatives aware and build their capacities upon various sanitation related policies and guidelines those include JNNURM guidelines, Urban Sanitation Policy, Sustainable Habitat and water Mission under NAPCC, National River Conservation Plan, National Lake Conservation Plan, Municipal Solid Waste (Handling and Management) rules, National Urban Housing & Habitat Policy, Accelerated urban water supply programme, among others.
  • There should be component of making the people and community representatives understand about the process of inclusive City Development Planning and how they must be involved during such planning process and see the scope of further inclusiveness.

Without considering the inclusive planning process, there are chances that the ongoing efforts in sanitation achievements in the cities are not sustainable. This may further pose serious climatic vulnerability among poor population living in the slums of urban areas in terms of increasing intensity of droughts, shortage of drinking water and increased in food and other commodity prices and related health hazards.