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Urban Agenda | The whats, whys and hows of India's first city water management competition

Mar 02, 2024 07:21 PM IST

How the Union government’s fostering of competition among states and UTs through awards can go a long way in improving water management in India’s urban areas

Given how efficient water management is critical to over-populated, overheated, water-stressed urban areas, the Union government has initiated an ‘award and certification system’ to promote competition among states and cities to ensure water sources are well cared for, and citizens get access to clean drinking water.

Cities, states and union territories have been judged based on access, coverage, quality at water treatment plants and households,(AFP) PREMIUM
Cities, states and union territories have been judged based on access, coverage, quality at water treatment plants and households,(AFP)

This competition is on the lines of the National Democratic Alliance government’s popular Swachh Survekshan (cleanliness survey), which ranks municipal bodies across India on waste management abilities and actions. The results of the ‘Peyjal Survekshan’ (PJS) by the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA), which also conducts the annual Swachh Survekshan, will be announced in March, with President Droupadi Murmu conferring 18 of the top accolades to winning states and cities. All 485 cities where the flagship Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) mission is underway have been considered.

Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2015 as an extension or a replacement of the UPA government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Amrut focuses on water supply, stormwater drainage and sewage infrastructure, besides also looking at sustainable mobility and increasing recreational and green areas within cities. Since October 2021, the second phase of the Mission, or Amrut 2.0, has been focusing on universal water supply coverage in all statutory towns and 100% sewage treatment in 485 AMRUT cities.

What was judged?

 

Cities, states and union territories have been judged based on access, coverage, quality at water treatment plants and households, sustainability measures, the health of water bodies, availability of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), flow meters and reuse of treated used water. Cities will be graded on a star rating scale, ranging from five to zero stars on these aspects.

In the upcoming first edition, 129 awards will be announced in different categories. Among the significant accolades, cities will be given gold, silver, and bronze awards across three population categories— one million, one to four million, and more than four million people. For this, water quality, access and source sustainability were considered, with 40% weightage on the first two parameters and 20% on the third.

Another marquee award — the Amrut 2.0 rotating trophy of the year — will be given to a state for the most efficient implementation of the Amrut 2.0 scheme. Other than these, there will be award categories like best water body, reuse champion, water quality, and city with best treatment and reuse practices. Two awards will be given for sustainable measures taken by cities.

How were cities and states judged?

 

The Peyjal Survekshan awards are based on field surveys, citizen feedback, and independent water quality tests at the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories accredited labs.

MoHUA secretary Manoj Joshi said that in only 46 cities were all the tested water samples found to be potable. He added that 54 cities have been identified as saturated cities, with 95% or more coverage of households with piped water connections. A total of eight water bodies have been identified as healthy.

Feedback from 5,21,000 citizens was considered for the survey. Other than this, surveyors visited 830 water treatment plants, 1,044 sewage treatment plants, and 140 water bodies and collected 24,000 samples, including from household taps. More than 2,000 flow meter readings were studied to identify leakages. There were also efforts to assess the quality of water and water source conservation efforts.

Why were they judged?

 

A 2020 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has projected that 30 Indian cities will face a ‘grave water risk’ by 2050 due to overcrowding in cities.

Multiple Indicator Survey (NSS round 78) in 2020-21 said 61.4% of urban households had piped drinking water supply. Most cities across India get water supply on an average for 6–8 hours, and women and children in urban slums walk for about 44 minutes on average to collect water, according to a 2020 study by researchers at the Madras School of Economics.

How will the Peyjal Survekshan Awards help?

 

Ministry officials said that these awards and certifications will trigger better decision-making by municipal bodies, which will, in turn, enhance service delivery and foster citizen engagement, water conservation and confidence of citizens.

Experts agreed. Calling it a welcome initiative to celebrate the efforts towards improved water management across cities in the country, Sahana Goswami, senior program manager at WRI India, said it will encourage peer learning and healthy competition.

“The findings about potable water are alarming statistics, indicating where urgent action is needed. The exercise needs to expand beyond the current 485 AMRUT cities to all urban regions in the country and assess measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of water supply sources at risk from increasing demand and climate variability and uncertainty,” she said.

Similarly, Narasimha Reddy Donthi, a water policy expert, said the awards can potentially encourage positive change in increasing citizen’s access to clean drinking water. He, however, cautioned: “We have seen some awards given for Swachh Bharat initiatives based on voting through an app. States get invested in getting votes and, unfortunately, not on real changes.” Donthi said that, instead, the focus should be on investing in changes and policies to increase access to water, conservation, and reuse, and not on individual champions.

Increasing engagement beyond surveys

 

In addition to these awards, MoHUA will launch the Amrut Mitra scheme, where women’s self-help groups (SHGs) will implement AMRUT 2.0 projects. These workers will be trained and engaged in billing, collection, leak detection, plumbing works, water quality sampling, and infrastructure maintenance to address gender inequality in the male-dominated sector. A total of 1,500 works have already been awarded to these SHGs.

The ministry of housing and urban affairs on February 27 announced Pey Jal Survekshan would be held on March 5, but subsequently retracted the statement and has not specified when the award ceremony will be held.

Soumya Chatterjee is a member of the HT team with a brief to report on urban living. Once a week, the team offers us a deep dive into city life and the life of cities

 

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