Over the past decades (Census 2011)), Uttarakhand has witnessed rapid urbanisation, with a growth of about 42 per cent in urban population. The rate of growth is substantially higher than the national average of 32 per cent. The demand for better civic services, including water supply is growing in tandem. To meet this demand, the Uttarakhand government is making strides in implementing projects under various government schemes. For instance, water supply projects are being taken up in urban areas under the Atal Mission for Rural and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and sanitation programmes under the Swachh Bharat Mission. However, the provision of services to peri-urban areas in Uttarakhand has largely been neglected.
A peri-urban area, though classified as rural, is urban in nature. These areas are characterised by high population density, connectivity with urban centres, and the availability of employment or business opportunities, with about 70 per cent of the male population engaged in non-agrarian pursuits. In Uttarakhand, there are 35 census towns which are classified as peri-urban. Despite having characteristics similar to those of urban areas, the service level in these areas is rather low. For instance, only 45 per cent of the households in peri-urban areas have access to piped water supply with a provision of 40 litres per capita per day (lpcd). There are also operational inefficiencies resulting in the generation of 40-50 per cent non-revenue water (NRW). As a result, most of the households depend on their own borewells or tanker supply which costs them three to four times the monthly water bill.
To overcome these issues and improve service level benchmarks, the state government has proposed a water supply programme dedicated to peri-urban areas. The execution of the programme is vital to realising the vision of ensuring universal access to water supply and sanitation services across the state by 2018-24.
Key issues and challenges
The rapidly expanding peri-urban areas of Uttarakhand are plagued by administrative and economic challenges. For instance, there is lack of clarity over the municipal jurisdiction of these areas which creates hurdles in determining the extent of responsibility of various governance institutions. This results in inefficient service delivery. Moreover, there is an absence of regional-level planning through the development of master plans and innovative water supply programmes. Despite the fact that most of the population in these areas is urban (as classified by their occupation), the areas are still governed by rural institutions such as gram panchayats. As a result, panchayats fail to determine the need for high service levels. Low priority status assigned to these areas and the expanding colonies within them further aggravates the prevailing poor condition of water supply service levels.
The lack of adequate financing is another issue which often results in these areas being left out. Though significant funds are released to the state government for developing urban areas under government programmes such as AMRUT and the Swachh Bharat Mission, among others, peri-urban areas remain sidelined as they are out of the ambit of such programmes. The heavy dependence on private borewells and septic tanks also indicates the poor service levels. A flat tariff structure with no incentive to revise rates further worsens the already grim picture.
The proximity of peri-urban areas to cities results in an increasing demand for improved quality of service. There is thus an urgent need to address the challenges that hamper the provision of better services. To this end, the state government announced the water supply programme for peri-urban areas on September 7, 2017. This programme is a subcomponent of the Uttarakhand government’s Water Supply and Sanitation Programme. The sub-programme, dedicated to peri-urban areas, will be implemented by the Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan and the Uttarakhand Peyjal Nigam. The agencies will be responsible for designing, implementing and managing the programme in distinct geographical areas to avoid overlaps.
The programme is targeted towards improving the low service levels in water supply. These are indicated by the existing number of water supply connections, low per capita supply of water, high level of NRW, lack of metering, intermittent water supply with availability only for two to three hours, low quality of water supplied and inefficiency in collection of water charges. Under the programme, the state government has set a benchmark of ensuring high quality water supply (at par with urban standards), achieving universal metering of household connections, ensuring pressurised 135 lpcd of 24×7 water supply, curbing NRW to a maximum of 30 per cent, supplying water for a minimum of 16 hours, achieving 90 per cent efficiency in collecting water charges, among several other benchmarks.
The programme covers the following:
- Construction, rehabilitation, augmentation and expansion of water supply pipeline networks and the provision of metered service connections.
- Strengthening of policies for planning and monitoring water supply services in these areas, including the development and implementation of a service-oriented water supply sector policy for peri-urban areas; strengthening of existing monitoring and evaluation systems; and preparation and adoption of water supply master plans.
- Provision of support to manage the prog-
ramme, to strengthen the implementing agency’s governance and accountability, to carry out technical assessments and studies on water supply services; and to build capacity for delivering professional services.
To execute the programme, an estimated investment of $150 million is required to be spent over the six-year period 2018-24. A major part of the investment will go towards constructing water supply assets; laying water supply networks; rehabilitating existing pipelines; augmenting water sources; treating, storing and disinfecting water; and developing distribution networks.
In January this year, the World Bank agreed to provide partial funding of $120 million for the project. Thereafter, the central and state governments signed an agreement with the World Bank for the same. The loan will be disbursed through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and has a maturity period of 17 years. The remaining amount of $30 million will be provided by the state government.
Once the programme is implemented, over 0.07 million people residing in the peri-urban areas of the state are expected to benefit.
The programme is well aligned with the state government’s vision of universal water coverage by 2024. Its successful execution can be ensured by addressing the challenges related to monitoring progress and fund utilisation, besides tracking the milestones to be achieved. To this end, the existing monitoring and evaluation system has to be strengthened to carry out regular assessments for timely and reliable information on programme activities. For faster implementation, there is a need to introduce strong financial incentives to drive the concerned parties to deliver the required action/ output within the stipulated timelines. Independent verification of results, technical and financial audits, and strengthening of the grievance redressal mechanism through citizen engagement programmes can also be taken up. To ensure accountability of the contractors, appropriate service delivery models, including public-private partnerships, can be considered.
At present, residents are paying three to four times the water rates prevailing in urban areas. Consumers thus have the ability and the willingness to pay for better quality services. However, to avoid exploitation, tariff policies which are applicable to urban areas will need to prevail in peri-urban areas as well. Sound implementation of the programme will go a long way in reducing the urban-rural divide.