India is becoming dominantly urban, and the urban poor, who are increasing in numbers, face exclusion from basic amenities like safe drinking water and sanitation. It is time public policy gives them the right priority, say Shipra Saxena and Biraja K Satapaty. Saxena is currently working with Population Foundation of India as its water supply and sanitation programme team leader while Satapaty is working as water and sanitation specialist in Odisha in USAID-supported health of the urban poor programme
India is on the verge of a historic change. Known as the country that lives in its villages, it stares at an opposite image. In the near future, more people will be in the country's urban areas than in rural. The urban population growth rate is 1.8 times that of the overall population growth and 2.6 times the rural population growth. Rapid urbanisation brings with it a disturbing change: urbanisation of poverty. In 2004-05 there were 20 million more urban poor than in 1973-74. New estimates are expected by end of 2013. The slum population in most cities has grown faster than that of non-slum population. From 1991 to 2001, the population of India grew at an average rate of two per cent per annum, the urban population at three per cent, mega cities at four per cent, and slum population by five per cent. According to UN-HABITAT, the slum population in India was approximately 169 million in 2005; it is projected to be 202 million by 2020.
The policy environment has been evolving but it is not enough. The Five Year Plans provide policy guidelines and strategic direction for the country’s development process. Safe water, sanitation, hygiene and environment have remained priority since the inception of the planning process. An assessment of discourses on water and sanitation (WATSAN) for urban areas in public policy domain highlights critical concerns.
The first three Five Year Plans treated water and sanitation as a sub-sector under health. The priority during these plans was to control communicable diseases through provision of protected water supply and sanitary methods of excreta disposal. The Fourth and Fifth Five Year Plans dealt with water supply and sanitation under urban development, housing and water supply schemes. Since the Sixth Five Year Plan, water supply and sanitation has become a separate sector in development planning. The Seventh Five Year Plan put a target of adequate drinking water facilities for the entire population and sanitation facilities for 80 per cent of the urban population.
In 1987 India adopted its first water policy. The policy accorded top priority to drinking water. The Eighth Five Year Plan mentioned safe drinking water supply and basic sanitation as vital human needs for health. The Ninth Five Year Plan set out to achieve safe water and basic sanitation for all by 2000. During the 10th Plan, urban reforms and changes in existing policies and provisions were initiated. The Plan continued with the commitment for universal WATSAN coverage for urban areas.
New targets were fixed along the lines of the Millennium Development Goals. It set 2012 as the new deadline for meeting the commitments. The 11th Plan ended with none of these commitments being met. The 12th Five Year-Plan has seemingly focused on the urban poor. The working group set to focus on programmes for urban poverty, slums and services delivery says in its report: “There has been a marked shift in the country’s economic structure, from a predominantly agrarian economy to a manufacturing and services sector-oriented economy. Urban population growth areas and the accompanying challenges demand concerted policy attention.” Setting the tone for the 12th Five Year Plan for the urban poor, the group has recommended slums as the starting point of intervention.
Another critical issue the working group has flagged is the lack of legislative support for the urban poor. According to the group, this is an important reason for exclusion of urban poor from basic services.
In December 2005, the Government of India announced the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) for integrated planned development of 63 selected cities. It includes two sub-missions, the Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) and Basic Services to Urban Poor (BSUP). Two other reform driven schemes - Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns and Integrated Housing and Slum Development were also included under JNNURM.
The main thrust of the sub mission on UIG is on major infrastructure projects related to water supply, sanitation, sewerage, solid waste management, road network, urban transport and redevelopment of inner city. The main thrust of sub-mission on BSUP is to integrate development of slums through projects for providing shelter, basic services and other related civic amenities with a view to provide utilities to the urban poor.
Water and sanitation is also reflected in a number of sectoral and sub sectoral policies. The National Water Policy of 2002 of the Ministry of Water Resources highlights that adequate safe drinking water facilities should be provided to the entire population, in urban and rural areas. The Draft National Water Policy of 2012 affirms that the Central, the state and local bodies must ensure a minimum quantity of potable water, available within easy reach of the household, for essential health and hygiene to all citizens.
National Health Policy of 2002, drafted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, maintains that the attainment of improved health levels would be dependent on population stabilization, efforts from other areas of the social sectors such as improved drinking water supply, basic sanitation, and minimum nutrition. National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, 2001 of Department of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Department states that special attention will be given to the needs of women in the provision of safe drinking water, sewage disposal, toilet facilities and sanitation within accessible reach of households, in rural areas and urban slums.
National Policy for Urban Street Vendors, 2009, drafted by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, highlights the provision of civic facilities, including drinking water and public toilets at vendors’ markets. National Urban Sanitation Policy, 2008 of Ministry of Urban Development envisions all Indian cities and towns become totally sanitized, healthy and livable and basic sanitation should be de-linked from the issues of land tenure. The preamble of the National Urban Housing and Habitation Policy, 2007, of Ministry of housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, says “urban areas in our country are also characterized by severe shortage of basic services like potable water, well laid out drainage system, sewerage network, sanitation facilities, electricity, roads and appropriate solid waste disposal.”
The Policy aims at addressing the special needs of women-headed households, single women, working women and women in difficult circumstances in relation to housing services by basic amenities. The National Nutrition Policy, 1993, Department of Women & Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Department, states that children of urban slum dwellers are nutritionally the most fragile. One of the causes may be poor sanitary conditions. The Draft National Urban Health Mission, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, aims to address the health concerns of the urban poor by facilitating equitable access to available health facilities by rationalizing and strengthening of the existing capacity of health delivery for improving the health status of the urban poor.
In spite of changing policy environment, recognizing that adequate water, safe sanitation, and a clean environment are basic human needs which reduce the burden of diseases by 70–80 per cent, concerns remain unanswered. Despite repeated commitments, provision of WATSAN for the entire urban population is yet to be achieved. India’s finite and fragile water resources are stressed and depleting, while water demands, including that for drinking, industry, agriculture and others, are growing rapidly in line with urbanization, population increase and rising industrial growth. Again, the risk of bacterial contamination of water resulting in water borne diseases is higher. Availability of poor quality of water at source and poorly maintained water and sewer lines also add to the concern. For ensuring water quality, inter-sectoral convergence and allocation, planning and management of increasing fragile water resources have emerged as a major challenge which lacks adequate attention.