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India Inc, micro suppliers can help improve water services

New Delhi : A sharp improvement in the performance of India’s water and sanitation sectors would be critical to meet the ever-increasing needs of the country’s urban population, a new report by TERI University has said, underlining the role of corporate houses and their potential to contribute to urban sanitation and the increasing role of urban small water enterprises in ensuring water supply to the under- and un-served sections.

The report - State of Urban Water and Sanitation in India - pointed out that less than seven per cent of wastewater generated in cities and towns is treated while the rest 93 per cent gets discharged into the open or water bodies, causing serious problem of untreated wastewater and garbage pile up across India's cities and towns in the wake of urban local bodies (ULBs) and other agencies failing to treat them.

The Central Government needs to focus on improving the regulatory mechanism by devolving powers to urban local bodies and introduce stringent regulatory measures in scientific management of solid waste and septage for strict enforcement of the polluter-pays principle, the report said.

The report has been prepared by TERI University, in partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Coca-Cola India and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and marks a key milestone of the USAID-funded project 'Strengthening water and sanitation in urban settings'.

The rapid increase in urbanization in India is expected to continue in the decades ahead, pushing urban population from 31 per cent at present to 50 per cent in 2030. This raises concerns over the development of infrastructure services for water supply and sanitation to serve the urban centres.

India’s progress in achieving the targets set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is far more impressive for sustainable access to safe drinking water when compared to that on sanitation.

The World Bank's Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) had estimated the cost of poor sanitation in India in 2006 at Rs 2.4 lakh crore ($53.8 billion) — 6.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Although several national programmes since 1951 have contributed significantly to the sector’s progress, especially during the period 2000–2015, urban sanitation services continue to be grossly inadequate given the rising population, exponential growth of urban centres, problems related to land tenure, etc.

The report examined three years (2014-2017) of policies and programmes to improve access to clean water and sanitary facilities in India and said that providing water supply and faecal sludge management for sustainable sanitation will be necessary to make the Centre's Swachh Bharat Mission a success.

It presented policy makers with a snapshot of efforts made since the beginning of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). It highlights best practices from the past three years and gives recommendations to help policy makers achieve SBM goals faster.

"A staggering 93.3 per cent of the wastewater - including that emptied through centralised systems and on-site sanitation systems - is either discharged on open land and farmland or in water bodies, and of the waste water emptied either through centralised and decentralised systems or through other means, 34.8 per cent is conveyed to treatment plants or proper disposal sites, of which only 6.7 per cent is treated", the report noted.

The report calls for more detailed data to help city managers make their cities cleaner. The report asks specifically for information about waste collection, the cost of city services, and how waste is treated in each city. This could help city managers better understand the needs of their cities and reach the goals set out by the national government under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM).

It also gives specific to help not only in achieving the goals of the SBM (U) in the remaining two years of the mission period but also in integrating improved urban water and sanitation management into the overall plans for the country’s development in the long term.

FROM GREECE TO INDIA, PEOPLE SAFEGUARD WATER FOR THE COMMON GOOD

The successes in Greece and Indonesia demonstrate civil society wants to keep water in public hands. And yet the World Bank continues its dogmatic promotion of privatization.

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