Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

Urban Water and Sanitation in India

Multi-stakeholder Dialogues for Systemic Solutions

Rudresh Sugam, Arunabha Ghosh
February 2013 |

Suggested Citation: Rudresh Sugam and Arunabha Ghosh. 2013. Urban Water and Sanitation in India: Multi-stakeholder Dialogues for Systemic Solutions. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.


This report summarises the existing literature on urban water management bottlenecks. It discusses an array of issues: challenges of water utility management; roles of the private sector and civil society; the role of the regulator; challenges with water measurement and data; and ongoing efforts and difficulties with building capacity in the Urban Water Supply and Sanitation (UWSS) sector. It also captures the discourse at five roundtables that deliberated on the challenges facing the urban water and sanitation sector. It showcases the individual opinions of experts who participated in the dialogues and underlines key recommendations for policymakers.

Key Highlights

Private sector participation in water management

  • The private sector should identify key stakeholders present in a target area as the success of any contract lies in the development of a strong relationship between the service provider and the consumer.
  • The private sector should understand the requirements of different sections of consumers. An innovative approach like decentralised bulk water supply to the poor can be adopted if the area does not have a pipeline network.
  • A project feasibility study should be carried out before entering into contracts as understanding the risks involved in the public-private partnership (PPP) is very important.
  • The public sector partner in a PPP should look at the broader interest of the community and defend the long-term public interest.
  • Public sector should ensure that the services are equitable and have no negative environmental impact. It must act as a regulator and subsidy provider to other stakeholders involved in urban water management.
  • The civil society must ensure community engagement for social mobilisation, raising awareness, generating demand, and facilitating change.

Regulatory framework for urban water management in India

  • It is important to regulate informal vendors supplying water to the urban poor as currently there are no regulations and it puts a limit on the tariff charged by informal vendors.
  • The major function of the authority handling water resources is to determine, regulate and enforce the distribution of entitlements for the various categories of use and the distribution of entitlements for water.
  • The UWSS sector in India suffers from low-cost recovery, poor operations and maintenance, high non-revenue water losses, a huge volume of untreated water discharge, poor governance, and low tariff and depleting ground table.
  • The rate of extraction of groundwater has exceeded the rate of recharge in many urban localities such as Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Jaipur.
  • This had led to falling groundwater levels, in turn increasing the demand for energy and other infrastructure to pump groundwater.

Water data and measurement

  • A water supplier needs to have data regarding the amount of water available, which could be supplied to meet consumer demand. Also, there is a need for consumer demand data, which could be further divided into hourly demand, daily demand, monthly and yearly demand.
  • Water managers need information on the type of extraction system, treatment system, energy supply, infrastructure status, delivery capacity, and consumer demand fluctuations.
  • Data on infrastructure facilities is necessary for developing an asset management plan. Such information could help in identifying the necessity and prospects of expansion of infrastructure.
  • Data is required on the consumer mix and their demand for adopting a suitable strategy.
  • Regular water quality monitoring data should be checked to detect any contamination in the water supply.
  • Water quality data is unavailable to consumers leading to the consumption of contaminated water by resulting in illnesses.
  • Data on the mix of consumers is not always available with the utilities and they usually adopt a single service provision strategy for all types of consumers.
  • Poor data on slums is a point of major concern for the utilities.

Operating ratio of 20 Urban Water Supply and Sanitation (UWSS) utilities in India

Operating ratio of 20 Urban Water Supply and Sanitation (UWSS) utilities in India

Source: ADB (2007) Benchmarking and Data Book of Water Utilities in India: Asian Development Bank

Key Recommendations

Private sector participation in water management

  • Social, democratic and environmental objectives should accompany urban water reforms with techno-economic and financial objectives.
  • Establish a politically accountable regulatory system for entry-level regulations. PPPs should proceed with systematic data-building and sectoral studies, and the local community and stakeholders should play a crucial role in designing the PPP contracts.
  • Ensure that subsidy reaches the desired section of the society before providing any incentive or subsidy for water PPP projects.
  • Reconsider government policy on subsidies in the context of the cost recovery goals under PPP.
  • Re-examine the existence of any legal prohibitions against serving informal settlements in order to extend services to the water sector.
  • Consider options such as pre-paid meters, increased pay points, mobile bill payments etc. to facilitate payment system for water bills.

Regulatory framework for urban water management

  • Water tariffs should create incentives that ensure that the users obtain the largest possible aggregate benefits for a given cost of water supply.
  • Make revenue from water users sufficient to cover the operation and management cost of the water utility, to repay loans taken to replace and expand the capital stock and provide a return on capital to cover for risk.
  • Make the regulations of the UWSS system accountable to the public.

Water data and measurement

  • Conduct special education and training programmes about water quality testing and poor hygiene health issues for slum dwellers.
  • Provide training services to managers and technicians in water utilities in addition to developing or adapting new technologies and instruments for water measurements.
  • Create platforms for private institutes that are working as environmental consultants in India to share their data on environmental parameters such as water quality and wastewater for some regions.
  • Create benchmarks for industry-wide water use as this could help to promote industrial water use efficiency.
  • Allow independent research institutes to help the government by conducting research on appropriate sanitation and waste disposal technologies for low income and high-density settlements.

Building capacity in the urban water sector

  • Create regular skill development programs, management courses, on-field research as these are necessary for continuous development of capacity in the urban water management sector.
  • Incorporate skilled operators, technicians, managers, decision-makers, etc. to ensure the correct functioning of the UWSS sector.
  • Develop institutional capacity for urban governance at state and ULB levels to promote urban planning and inclusive city development.
  • Improve human resource capacity to enhance efficiency in civic administration for planned and inclusive spatial and socio-economic development of cities.
  • Implement effective projects and reforms under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission (JNNURM).
  • Facilitate institutional arrangements and networking of training and research institutions. Also, develop improved procedures and systems to enhance service delivery.

While clean water supply needs to reach everyone, the water supply and sanitation system should be operated in a cost-efficient manner like other public utilities such as electricity, transportation and heath.

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