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(Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
(Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Why outskirts of cities need better water supply

Commercialization of drinking water in India’s peri-urban areas has created water scarcity for local residents, shows a study

One of the first acts of the new government was to establish the Jal Shakti ministry to tackle India’s water crisis. And as the policy discourse around the water crisis gathers momentum, a new paper authored by Sucharita Sen of Jawaharlal Nehru University highlights that India’s peri-urban areas (the outskirts of cities) could be the most vulnerable

Focusing on the peri-urban areas of Hyderabad, Sen shows how the concentration of industries and infrastructural development has caused extensive pollution of the surface and groundwater. This has forced peri-urban residents to rely on treated water which has, in turn, promoted the commercialization of drinking water. Though treatment plants set up to serve peri-urban residents receive subsidies, these plants find it more lucrative to cater to the rich urban residents who fetch them better prices. This creates a “spatial outflow" of water to the city core and reduces the water availability for peri-urban residents. The spatial outflow of water also depletes the groundwater table, reducing the water available for farmers, which has contributed to a rapid decline in agricultural land around Hyderabad.

The survey reveals that to address the lack of public water provisioning in peri-urban spaces in Hyderabad, gram panchayats have entered into public-private partnerships (PPPs) with private water suppliers.

The authors argue that while PPP models can deliver water more regularly at fairer prices, the inclusion of informal water suppliers in drinking water governance has diluted the strength of existing regulations established to protect over-extraction and pollution. The authors, therefore, argue that India’s peri-urban areas need robust public infrastructure to deliver safe drinking water that ensures availability and minimises inequalities.

Also Read: Geographies of Drinking Water (In)securities in Peri-urban Hyderabad

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