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Stressed city fathers

Book>> Costs and challenges of local urban services, evidence from India's cities by Kala Seetharam Sridhar and Om Prakash Mathur Price Rs 695

 
By Julian Lakra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Book>> Costs and challenges of local urban services, evidence from India's cities by Kala Seetharam Sridhar and Om Prakash Mathur Price Rs 695

Economists believe every third person in the world might live in rural areas by 2020. Urbanization is accepted as an inevitable by-product of development but it has undesirable outcomes. With increasing population and demand for urban infrastructure, capacities of local governments are stretched to the limits.

The book under review is a sympathetic look at some of the problems of municipal authorities. A large portion deals with challenges of providing safe drinking water. According to the Union urban development ministry, 20 per cent of the country's urban households do not have access to safe drinking water, 58 per cent do not have sanitation and more than 40 per cent of the garbage is not collected.

The authors seem to believe this state of affairs is caused by that great bugbear of planners rural-urban migration. They pose this problem at the outset "The question that remains unaddressed in a developing country like India is whether there are too many city immigrants."

Down to Earth The question smacks of a political agenda. But to be fair, the authors do not have any such agenda. They intend to correct what they believe is a fallacy using average costs to determine pricing for water supply.

The authors believe a city usually develops its least expensive water sources first. However, it becomes increasingly expensive to produce an additional unit of water as demands grow with increasing migration into urban areas.

This point is well taken. However, this reviewer will not go the whole hog in placing all the responsibility on influx from rural areas. Costs of municipal services also increase because residents of a city acquire added amenities.

Each new car, for example, puts a strain on the city's roads. Many brands of water filters, so common among urban middle classes, are notorious for wasting water. Of course, immigrants should not be blamed for all such devices.

Julian Lakra is an architect in Kolkata

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