The urban water supply and waste management sector has recorded phenomenal growth over the past year. Aided by centrally sponsored schemes, and rising consumer consciousness towards a cleaner India, several innovative projects have taken off in the sector. However, despite the growth momentum, some key challenges pose hindrances to further development. Indian Infrastructure presents the views of leading sector experts regarding the sector’s performance over the past year…
What has been the progress in the urban water supply and waste sector in the past one year?
Central schemes such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Swachh Bharat Mission have highlighted the need to focus on the urban water supply and waste management sector. Under AMRUT, providing basic services to households and building amenities in cities to improve the quality of life of citizens has become a national priority. This has fostered significant interest, with initiatives such as 24×7 water supply projects and infrastructure augmentation works being increasingly taken up by states.
Outcomes such as assured water supply and sewerage connections, the maintenance of green spaces, etc., are valued by citizens, particularly women. To this end, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) has prescribed indicators and standards in the form of service level benchmarks, aiming to improve infrastructure in Indian cities. Urban centres are also focusing on the construction and maintenance of stormwater drains to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, flooding in cities.
Meanwhile, instead of providing project-by- project sanctions, the MoUD has started approving state annual action plans under AMRUT. Respective state governments are also required to give project sanctions and approvals at their end, making them equal partners in project planning and implementation, thus actualising the spirit of cooperative federalism.
Significant progress has been made in the past year to enhance water supply to India’s urban centres. In Surat, the average supply to the city was increased to 1,063 million litres per day (mld) in 2016-17, from 1,040 mld in 2015-16. Coverage under the water supply network has been increased, with 95 per cent of the households and 5.3 million consumers being covered under the network in 2016-17. Measures have also been undertaken to ensure adequate metering, which has been extended from 4 per cent in 2015-16 to 10 per cent in 2016-17. Further, to ensure adequate water supply even in the face of abnormalities and failures of water works, the city has established a water grid network. Through the grid, water can be transmitted to the city from alternative waterworks in case of any unforeseen circumstances. The municipal corporation has also undertaken initiatives to use renewable sources of energy for its water supply operations. It has enhanced its installed wind power capacity from 17.7 MW in 2015-16 to 30.3 MW in 2016-17. This has allowed the corporation to reduce its water production costs from Rs 4.40 per kilolitre to Rs 3.83 per kilolitre.
Srinivas Chary Vedala
While innovative schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT and the Smart Cities Mission have been launched, the urban water and sewage management sector has progressed modestly over the past one year. However, the municipal solid waste (MSW) management sector has gained considerable traction.
MSW collection systems have improved across the country. With regard to treatment and safe disposal of waste, states have initiated regional or cluster-based waste-to-energy (WtE) and integrated waste management projects. Interestingly, small and medium towns have made significant progress and much can be learned from their experience. The Swachh Bharat Mission and the introduction of the National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Policy in March 2017 have driven this growth.
What has been the progress under various central programmes (Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT and Smart Cities Mission) initiated by the government?
The Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT and the Smart Cities Mission have led to significant progress as well as partnerships between various urban local bodies (ULBs), state governments and the centre. The Swachh Bharat Mission has been initiated across 200 ULBs and has recorded rapid success in the urban solid waste management segment. However, the government needs to increase the focus on implementation of successful WtE models and the marketing of compost. Meanwhile, AMRUT has also been successfully implemented. It has encouraged the implementation of projects for the tertiary treatment of sewage to encourage its reuse and recycling. The use of tertiary treated sewage at commercially viable rates can help municipalities save water and also generate revenues in the process.
Srinivas Chary Vedala
Despite the challenge of changing people’s mindsets, the Swachh Bharat Mission is one of the most successful government programmes in the country. Significant progress has been recorded regarding MSW management under the mission. Under the Smart Cities Mission, progress has been mixed and we are yet to see the results. While the planning process has been robust with significant participation of citizens and stakeholders, the tipping point in terms of project implementation is yet to come.
The AMRUT experience has again been a mixed bag. While projects such as 24×7 water supply, non-revenue water management, water recycling and non-motorised transport were to come up under the programme, there hasn’t been much traction. The reason is that state and city governments have not understood that the purpose of the initiative is not just to provide additional central assistance but that AMRUT is meant to change the way the government itself works and reform the process by which business is conducted. Presently, governments are implementing AMRUT like any other infrastructure programme, rather than the service delivery improvement programme that it actually is.
However, one of the key takeaways under AMRUT has been the introduction of septage and faecal waste management in small and medium towns. Earlier, these towns did not have the financial backing to implement such projects, but they can now introduce non-networked faecal sludge management systems. Moreover, private participation in desludging activities has also increased in recent times.
What are the key challenges that remain unaddressed?
There are a number of challenges faced during the preparation of detailed project reports. Further, projects availing of funds under AMRUT or the National Mission for Clean Ganga are not always financially feasible. Municipalities need to strengthen their institutional capabilities to be able to successfully design, build and operate commercially viable projects. Meanwhile, state projects such as those for 24×7 water supply are grappling with inadequate project viability and the lack of credible project partners under both, the public-private partnership and build-own-operate-transfer models. Meanwhile, the engineering, procurement and construction route taken earlier has shown limited success. The industry should encourage an increasing role of the private sector in building new models for project development.
Ensuring water security remains a key issue for urban water supply today. For this, measures such as strengthening grid networks, undertaking water audits to assess quantum of losses, constructing French wells, and undertaking acquifer mapping studies to locate subsurface water sources need to be taken. Further, an adequate water policy needs to be formulated which focuses on restricting groundwater usage, strengthening rainwater harvesting systems, extending water metering, and using tertiary grade water for non-domestic purposes. Meanwhile, another key challenge that needs to be resolved is ensuring the quality of source water. To this end, measures such as periodically releasing upstream water to meet water requirements are essential.
Srinivas Chary Vedala
The subdued growth in sewage management has been due to various factors. Issues such as massive capital requirements, the need to get significant public participation for successful implementation, inadequate last-mile connectivity, and the lack of interdepartmental coordination have delayed project implementation. Moreover, the high operation and maintenance cost of sewerage projects is leading the government to consider faecal sludge management projects as an alternative.
Bringing about behavioural change is another significant challenge in society today. Initiating this change right at the school level may help create awareness and improve participation in programmes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission. Another problem in the sector is haphazard project planning. With rapid urbanisation and population growth, there is a need to promote an effective urban planning system.
Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, one of the biggest challenges is the possible slippage in toilet use. While the mission promotes open defecation-free urban areas, issues such as lack of water supply, low groundwater tables or the perception that the toilet tanks may get full quickly discourage the use of toilets. At the same time, there is a need to enhance treatment capacity in the country. Presently, the sludge collected is simply disposed of in low-lying areas or waterbodies, simply shifting the problem from one level to another. Therefore, steps need to be taken to make the waste management system more robust. Measures also need to be taken to eradicate manual scavenging and move towards mechanisation of the sector.
What is the sector outlook for the next one-two years?
The industrial waste water and raw water segment has assumed increasing importance in certain regions of the country. This is mainly due to a lack of raw water supply from state governments, and strict central/state-level pollution control norms. Going forward, governments are expected to emphasise the need for stricter discharge norms, including those for zero liquid discharge (ZLD) from polluting industries. This will lead sectors such as textiles, oil and dyes, and chemicals to adopt pollution reducing technologies and ZLD norms. Thus, in the coming one-two years the water supply and waste sector is expected to expand significantly. Capital expenditure in the sector is expected to reach an annual level of $16 billion by 2020, and is set to increase by 83 per cent over the next five years. However, the government will need to build a sound institutional structure and strengthen ULBs to tap into the sector’s growth potential.
Going forward, water supply coverage is expected to be increased through the implementation of new water supply schemes and projects. Besides, water conservation practices will be enforced by placing restrictions on groundwater usage and promoting rainwater harvesting. Focus will also be on conducting studies of the water supply network for assessing non-revenue water losses, and ensuring adequately metered connections. In the next one-two years, more 24×7 water supply projects will be implemented and advanced water treatment processes are likely to be adopted by cities.
Srinivas Chary Vedala
Going forward, start-ups in the water and waste management sector are expected to bring innovative ideas to the forefront. At present, municipal bodies do not have adequate financial and technical capacities to ensure quality service delivery. Therefore, encouraging start-ups and other private players to invest in faecal management projects is the way forward for the sector. While such projects may be small in size, they are of extremely high value and can play a significant role in eradicating inefficient waste management services. For this, the government should encourage cohesive collaborations and encourage cross-pollination of ideas. Without private investment and expertise, growth in this sector is bound to cease.
Further, given the current tariff structure and political economy, the government should consider adopting a hybrid annuity-based model to encourage public-private partnerships in the sector, as has been done in the road sector. Moreover, private investment in wastewater recycling holds great potential and it is the responsibility of the government to facilitate this process.
“AMRUT has encouraged the implementation of projects for the tertiary treatment of sewage. The use of this sewage at commercially viable rates can help municipalities save water and also generate revenues in the process.”
Sourav Daspatnaik, Chief Executive Officer, Swach Environment Private Limited
“An adequate water policy needs to be formulated which focuses on restricting groundwater usage, strengthening rainwater harvesting systems, extending water metering, and using tertiary grade water for non-domestic purposes.”
M. Thennarasan, Municipal Commissioner, Surat Municipal Corporation
“Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, one of the biggest challenges is the possible slippage in toilet use due to lack of water supply, low groundwater tables or the perception that the toilet tanks may get full quickly.”
S.C. Vedala, Director, Urban Governance, Infrastructure, Environment & Energy, Administrative Staff College of India