The state of water supply services in Indian cities is steadily declining with inadequate coverage, intermittent supply and poor quality. Water tariffs in Indian cities are so low that it is hard to even recover the operation and maintenance expenses of the water board. Further, rapid urbanisation is posing a serious challenge with increasing demand. It is estimated that India�s urban population is going to increase by 600 million by 2031(40 % of total population), with the number of metropolitan cities (with population of 1 million and above) will increase from 53 in 2011 to 87 in 2031(HPEC, 2011). With a 5.5 per cent annual growth of the per capita GDP, and with more than half the population living in urban areas by 2050, India�s per capita domestic and industrial water demand per person could be doubled(Amarasinghe et. al. 2008). Further, climate change is also posing a serious challenge by altering weather patterns there by affecting the hydrological cycles.

Currently, surface water sources are being heavily contaminated with sewage being directly dumped into these bodies without any prior treatment. This also seeps into the ground, further contaminating the ground water reserves, making it unsafe for drinking. Majority of the rapidly expanding suburban areas now rely completely on ground water. A study by CSE (2012) on 71 cities found that groundwater constitutes 48 per cent of the share in urban water supply. In order to ensure continuous water and public health, ULBs are pumping water from distant sources (as much as 150 km from the city). This in turn involves heavy costs in pumping, supply infrastructure and its maintenance. Moreover, the transmission and distribution losses due to leakages and other factors constitute as high as 40-50 per cent of the total water supply. Cities spend around 30 -50 per cent of the total revenue on electricity in pumping water.

Most cities do not have a sewerage network (CSE, 2012). Even when one does exist, it does not cover the entire city. Further, parts of the urban agglomerations, which remain under rural administration, do not have adequate sewerage systems either. According to Central Pollution Control Board (2009), more than 70 per cent of the sewage generated in class-I and class-II cities (population above 1 lakh and 50,000 respectively) is not treated. The existing treatment facilities in the cities are operating sub optimally (ibid). The state of water and sewage management in the industrial sector is equally abysmal. In spite of being the second highest consumer of water after agriculture, majority of the industries still depend on surface and ground water sources(Aggarwal and Kumar, 2011).The level of recycle and reuse in industries is extremely low. It is estimated that 70 per cent of the industrial waste is directly dumped into the water bodies without prior treatment (ibid).

Rapid industrialisation coupled with increased urban population has an extremely adverse impact on the traditional water bodies. They have become dumping sites for untreated sewage, municipal solid waste and industrial effluents. In most of the cities, the water from these sources has become non- potable. These bodies are regularly encroached upon for various development activities resulting in widespread floods due to outflow of water from these catchment points during monsoon. Most cities have no legislation for protecting water bodies in urban (and rural) areas. Guwahati is the only city in India, which has enacted a law for conserving its water bodies (Shah, 2015).

As India rapidly urbansies, it is imperative that the gap between supply and demand of water is addressed in a holistic manner. If not, there will be serious consequences for cities in ensuring water supply for its residents. Waste water generated from households and industries should be effectively reutilised with regulating ground water usage and encouraging city level water-shed programmes for a sustainable water management plan.

There is a huge scope for promoting industrial water reuse and recycle with technological intervention where the returns to the capital investment for the technology can be achieved in short span. Evidences of technology interventions in Japan and Singapore have shown significant improvement in waste water management. All these alternative strategies provide a key opportunity for cities to realise environmental, social and economic benefits from instituting a comprehensive water supply and sewerage management strategy. Another key element for the long term sustenance of the project is end users. Therefore all stakeholders should be involved at every level of deliberation to build consensus and make the system work. This would require raising public awareness through political intervention and extensive engagement.

In conclusion, to achieve the goal of sustainability, one of the major drivers of change can be implementing 74th Constitutional amendment Act which emphasizes on devolution of powers to the ULBs, with greater financial and functional autonomy. Currently, ULBs are run by a complex institutional setup with limited financial and executive powers. Cities are still dependent on state and central grants for their daily operations which undermine improving service delivery and asset management. If cities are given more autonomy, it is the ULBs who will be more accountable to the citizens demanding better governance and services. Global experience of successful water bodies primarily focus on institutional reforms, dynamic leadership, technology intervention and community participation.

—Sri Siddhartha Ayyagari



Aggarwal and Kumar. (2011). Industrial Water Demand in India: Challenges and Implications for Water Pricing. In India Infrastructure Report 2011. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Amarasinghe, U., Shah, T., Turral, H., & Anand, B. K. (2007). India’s water future to 2025-2050: Business-as-usual scenario and deviations (Vol. 123). IWMI.

CSE (2012).�Excreta Matters�. Centre for Science and Environment Publishing. New Delhi

High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) Report on Urban Infrastructure and Services, Government of India.

Chairperson, Isher Judge Ahluwalia, 2011. Report available at

Registrar General of India. Census of India 2011, Government of India.