Smart Cities need Smart Governance more than heavy infrastructure

The Center has just unveiled Implementation Guidelines of three of its biggest schemes so far 100 Smart Cities, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Housing for All today. Stocks of Home Finance Companies are buzzing already. Construction company heads (who have invested heavily in creating urban holidays homes in rural villages) are happy, Industry analysts are excited about the explosive growth of “Cement, plastic and metal” this initiative will lead to, rather than the Mission itself. While the Prime Minister today said “development can’t create friction between cities and  rural areas”, such conflict is already simmering in several parts of country at the urban-rural divide, where rural areas are sinks for urban waste or sites for dams and power plants.

That a concerted push for Urban Renewal is a necessity, is undeniable. Urban India is one of the most populated and complex regions in the world. Currently, 31% ,about 377 million people are living in urban areas of the country. It is estimated that in the next 15 years, this will increase by another 157 millions and by 2050, more than half of the country’s population will be living in urban areas, for the first time. More than 70% of urban people live in 468 cities/towns with more than one lakh population[i].

All Water sub-sectors from water supply, sewerage and storm water play a pivotal role in shaping this Urban India. Apart from this resource centered view, rivers, streams, wells, wetlands, lakes, ponds, aquifers, drainage system, estuaries and rainfall define urban regions and although they are given a miss in grandiose City Development Plans, they make their presence amply felt during urban rains! Water is a critical factor in any growth story. But it is also heavily contested and precious resource. Growth and development of any urban center depends on how smartly we manage water and associated ecosystems. In the times of Climate Change when all urban centers including Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata are under specific stress, this becomes more significant. We are hoping for a Mission that not only includes infrastructure, technology, finance but more importantly addresses the precise problems plaguing Indian cities, towns and satellite settlements today: Transparent, responsive, participatory, democratic governance which addresses specific needs and challenges of that eco-region and builds on its cultural, social and ecological strengths.

June 2015 Mumbai Rains Photo: First Post

June 2015 Mumbai Rains Photo: First Post

SANDRP tries to analyse the Smart Cities Mission in particular to understand how the clinching issue of water is addressed and what can be considered Water Smart for India today.

In April 2015, Union Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister approved budget outlay of nearly Rs 1 Lakh Crores to  100 Smart Cities Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). Smart Cities Mission was allocated Rs 48,000 crore, while AMRUT, which mainly includes project-wise support to  infrastructure services relating to water supply, sewerage, sewage management, storm water drains, transport and development of green spaces and parks for 500 towns with a population of 1 lakh and above, will get Rs 50,000 Crore. Under the Smart Cities Mission, each selected city would get central assistance of Rs.100 crore per year for five years. These are huge sums of money, by all accounts. If we include state and local body contribution (ranging from 50-66% in th Smart City Mission) the investment in these initiatives over the next 5 years would be OVER Rs 2 lakh Crores.

If we compare this with a similar Urban Renewal Scheme of the UPA Government, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), we see that the Plan outlay for 296 JNNURM Projects for about 9 years between 2005-2014 was Rs.42,900 crore, of which central assistance was Rs 36,398 Crores, much less than the current gigantic schemes.

However, most JNNURM schemes are incomplete today.

Incomplete JNNURM Project in Pune Photo: Indian Express

Incomplete JNNURM Project in Pune Photo: Indian Express

The new government will not be supporting more than half of these schemes and more than 190 JNNURM projects are now left in limbo. The NDA government has branded JNNRUM as a failure, as a mission which “could not produce a single Model City” and which focused only on “asset creation”. While it’s hard to digest this allegation as taxpayers’ hard-earned money has gone into this scheme, it is largely true. JNNURM did end up creating assets without the requisite governance mechanisms to ensure that right decisions are taken and created assets work as promised and it does not have a single model city to show in 9 years.

But will the Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT scheme be any different? What were the issues with JNNURM, a flagship Programme of the earlier UPA Government? Despite holding several conclaves, Expos and Meetings, there is precious little information on the details of Smart Cities available in the open domain, including the official website. Hopefully things will get clearer. For now, let us try and understand what worked and what did not work for JNNURM from the lens of water supply and allied issues like Sewage Treatment,  Sanitation, Storm water drainage etc., which continue to remain dismal in urban India, but are indispensable for urban growth.

Some lessons learnt from JNNURM

Majority of JNNURM schemes dealt with water: water supply, source augmentation, riverfront development, River “Improvement”, 24×7 water supply schemes[ii] etc. As many as 186 projects worth Rs 8086.45 crores typically included water related projects. Two mandatory reforms introduced were 100% cost recovery through user charges and implementation of 74th constitutional amendment which prescribes that ULB (Urban Local Bodies) should take care of basic infrastructure services like water supply, sanitation and solid waste management. Three optional reforms included bye laws for Rainwater Harvesting, bye laws for Reuse of Recycled water and encouraging private participation in water supply. All of these remains half done.

Even though encouraging private participation was an optional reform, there was a spur of Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects across the country. By year 2010 total 64 urban water supply PPP projects were sanctioned all over India.[iii]

The standalone projects taken up by various city municipal corporations largely remained delinked from the reforms which were a tool for improving the overall governance. For example, out of 39 cities audited by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), only seven cities implemented the user charge collection mechanism for water supply.[iv] 100% cost recovery for urban water supply remained on paper.[v] It failed at strengthening urban local bodies (ULBs) in terms of their structure, composition, financial resources, functions and powers. [vi]

Not surprisingly, 183 out of 186 projects sanctioned under JNNURM for water supply were aimed at increasing supply: refurbishment of the existing infrastructure, augmenting more raw water sources and provision of uninterrupted water supply for 24 hours. Only three projects talk about the demand side management (one project is about rain water harvesting and two projects mentioning reuse of treated sewage[vii]). Two optional reforms namely ‘revision of bye-laws to make RWH mandatory’ and ‘bye-laws on reuse of recycled water’ were the only provision for the promoting demand side management. Monitoring their on ground implementation was responsibility of respective state governments and did not come under purview of JNNURM delinking it from the funds disbursement.[viii]

Public Private Partnerships, pushed indirectly through JNNURM resulted in weakening of the ULBs. One of the mandatory reforms under JNNURM was the implementation of the 74th Amendment in its letter and spirit, empowering urban local bodies, shifting a number of critical functions, including water supply and sewarge to ULB.[ix] though ULBs were transferred with the responsibility of providing basic infrastructure services and were equipped with necessary legal and administrative provisions, there was no investment in enhancing the administrative, technical, financial capacities of the ULBs. Instead private participation was prompted, directly and indirectly, as a solution to these chronic problems. In many cases, private sector has exploited the innate lack of capabilities of the local bodies for its benefit. Studying some of the PPP projects and the processes of reveals that PPPs contracts are biased and are not a win-win deal for the local bodies from the beginning. In addition, they are dominated by various political & economic interests. (

And now, without any objective assessment of the past PPP projects, Smart Cities Mission is set to attract more private investment in service provision. Union Urban Development Ministry is working on guidelines to attract private investments in proposed ‘smart cities’. MoUD Secretary Shankar Agarwal has been quoted saying “A large amount of money has to come from the private sector for the development of ‘smart cities’ for which the ministry is studying the ways and means on how to attract private investments.”[x] High Power Expert Committee on Investment Estimates in urban infrastructure has assessed investment requirements for the services covered at Rs.7 lakh crore over 20 years (Rs. 35000 Cr. annually).[xi] Involving Private Players without putting in place mechanisms for ensuring access-equity-affordability of the water supply service and protection of consumer rights will be repeating the same mistake again. In fact the moot question is if there any case for any kind of privatisation or PPP model in Urban water sector at all.

Smart Cities website states that 24×7 water supply has been adopted as a benchmark for the Mission. It will be interesting to look at how 24X7 water supply projects have performed during JNNURM. 10 of the projects out of 186 projects funded by JNNURM explicitly mention 24×7 water supply provision. But the switching over to daily water supply in core areas and the eventual shift towards 24X7 water supply scheme could not be achieved in half the cities even in this small sample of 10. [xii]  24×7 water supply is promoted purportedly to have multiple benefits, one of the main being ‘reduced burden on water resources’[xiii]. However, no assessment has been done to validate if this argument is true in Indian context. Results of the first operational project of 24×7 water supply which was implemented in Dharampeth Zone of Nagpur on pilot basis, of which the co-author was a part, are quite opposite to this claim. Domestic users of the water supply report that the daily water use has gone up after availability of 24×7 water. A number of complex factors are responsible for this.

The necessity of 24X7 has to be questioned before accepting it widely as a benchmark and further feasibility of 24 hour supply in terms of water availability, storage capacity of the water supply system etc. has to be established on case to case basis and with providing some real mechanisms for public participation. Looking at 24X7 water supply provision as a means for increased revenue may have serious impacts on the water resources, water availability, equitable distribution and efficient use of resources.

One size fits all approach for water supply projects

While planning and designing the water supply projects during preparation of CDPs and DPRs (Detailed Project Reports) of the projects ULBs have mostly opted for conventional water supply systems sourcing water from the distant surface water bodies like rivers and dams. They have not actively explored the local water supply sources, non-conventional and traditional options of integrating RWH or recycle and reuse of water into these projects. The benchmarks of the water supply service have also been standard throughout the nation. There has been no cognizance of varying availability of water supply due to the varying agro-climatic regions in which the city falls. As a result the cities have fallen short of achieving many of these standards. E.g. per capita 135 liters per capita per day (lpcd) water supply could not be achieved in any ULB in West Bengal during JNNURM. While the print media reports that the Smart Cities will be “”region-specific and not a generalised concept as practiced earlier”,[xiv] the benchmarks present the picture which is quite the opposite.

While Government of India is still prescribing 135 lpcd as a benchmark for water supply, many countries are focusing on reducing their per capita water supply and demand through cost effective measures like in the UK.[xv] Amsterdam has less than 130 lpcd water supply and less than 6% leakages . In 2004, The Netherlands made a law banning private sector provision of water supply.

After holding consultation workshops in October 2014 on Smart Cities, Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) prepared a concept note in December 2014.[xviii] This note does not include any framework on how the Smart Cities Mission will be taken ahead, how 24*7 water supply will be ensured, how water metering will be achieved, etc. Worryingly, it does not include a word about demand management, efficient water supply, transparency in urban water governance, 100% treatment of sewage and reuse of sewage water etc. On a positive note, it does include Rainwater harvesting and 100% sewerage connectivity, but not decentralised sewage treatment.

When it comes to urban water supply or sanitation, many Indian cities have been fighting with issues like haphazardly laid network, lack of technically capable staff, dismal collection of water taxes etc. which are typically a result of weak, non-transparent and unaccountable urban governance. In fact, as our experience with JNNURM shows, it is not the infrastructure, finances or the technology that is per se the limiting factor for efficient and equitable water supply in India today: It is the Governance which holds the key. Nothing in the open domain about Smart Cities talks of radical changes in this entrenched structure.

Official website of the programme [xix] states that Smart Cities will focus on use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) for improved service efficiency.[xx] Data from sensors, cameras, wireless devices, data centres from key infrastructure like water supply  will be integrated into smart grid and fed to computers to come up with models and ways to make services efficient. While, use of technology is needed and is good, ‘smart technologies’ like sensors, cameras, wireless devices, data centres by themselves will not solve these chronic problems as their roots are in the governance of the system. In the absence of open, responsive and accountable governance,  ICT is just another layer of physical infrastructure which in itself will not ensure efficiency, accountability and transparency in the governance of urban water supply.

It seems JNNURM and urban reforms before JNNURM offer impressive Lessons Learned for the Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT.

In a nutshell,

  • Asset creation has not led to efficiency or reliability in water use when not coupled with radical changes in urban water governance
  • PPP for Urban water Supply is dangerous and inefficient, without any long term success story at present
  • 24*7 Water Supply is not a silver bullet to be bitten to improve urban water access. Reliable, adequate water supply is the necessity.

As stated earlier, there is very little information about the framework to be adopted by Smart Cities Mission. We are presenting objectives for water supply, Sanitation and Storm Water as stated in the Concept Note on Smart Cities.

Water Supply:
  • 24 x 7 supply of water
  • 100% household with direct water supply connections
  • 135 litres of per capita supply of water
  • 100% metering of water connections
  • 100% efficiency in collection of water related charges
Sewerage and Sanitation:
  • 100% households should have access to toilets
  • 100% schools should have separate toilets for girls
  • 100% households should be connected to the waste water network
  • 100% efficiency in the collection and treatment of waste water
  • 100% efficiency in the collection of sewerage network
Storm Water Drainage:
  • 100% coverage of road network with storm water drainage network
  • Aggregate number of incidents of water logging reported in a Year = 0
  • 100% rainwater harvesting

We understand that the above is only a broad direction of water related issues in urban centers, but the direction too seems to be concerned only with supply-side measures, without mentioning demand management or governance issues.

Some major points which are missing and which need to be considered in Detailed Plans include:

Water Supply:
  • Leakages in water supply systems to be brought below 10%
  • Maps of water supply pipelines available in open domain
  • Mandatory Rainwater harvesting (storing or groundwater recharge) in all commercial, institutional and public buildings
  • 90 lpcd water supply, like some parts of Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation, rest to met by RWH or sewage treatment
  • River Regulation Zones in cities marked in Red and Blue lines depicting probable floods and once in 100 years floods. This zone protected from encroachment, constriction, road construction etc. and treated as a recharge zone.
  • Conjunctive use of Groundwater. Detailed Map of Urban aquifers, quality and quantity of groundwater
  • No new projects for augmenting water supply (like dams) to be funded or supported unless all local water sources are sustainably used, rainwater harvested, sewage retreated and reused, demand management measures are put in place, local water bodies protected, groundwater recharge systems recognised, protected and enhanced, flood plains protected.
  • Funding of Water supply linked with Sanitation, sewage treatment and recycle.
Sewerage and Sanitation:
  • Decentralized, less Energy Intensive sewage treatment systems installed. Audit of investment and energy intensive STPS which are working at dismal efficiencies. Accountability fixed. Citizens committee instated for governing each STP
  • Use of eco-technologies for sewage treatment like urban wetlands, reed beds, in-stream technologies, etc. explored and used.
  • Eco sanitation techniques to be explored and used
  • 100% Reuse of treated wastewater for secondary uses like flushing, gardens, along with dual plumbing where feasible
  • 0% untreated wastewater reaches urban wetlands, ponds, tanks, storm water drains and rivers.
  • Sewage lines cannot be laid inside streams and rivers
Reed Bed treatment technology in DRDO

Reed Bed treatment technology in DRDO

Storm-water management:

One of the co-authors was a part of a High Court-appointed Committee following a case  related to encroachment and concreting of urban streams in Pune and has seen the abuse of urban streams and rivers at close quarters. First abuse is the branding of these flowing streams as “urban drains”/ Nallahs/ Storm water drains. This denies their existence as ecosystems and the services they provide to urban communities, despite pressures. In Pune, these streams  were used even by the Municipal Corporation as sewage channels and were chronically encroached upon, using JNNURM funds. The Municipal Corporation has been concreting the nature streams effectively reducing their cross sections and opening up area for real estate development. This is the case with several cities and towns which received support under JNNURM or other urban reforms. It is very difficult to counter this as JNNURM Funding guidelines were very lax about protection of urban streams.

Some suggestions:
  • Protection to urban streams, wetlands and rivers and rivulets as natural water retention and passage systems is strongly needed. Riparian zone next to these systems needed to be protected as Green Zone. No channelization, concreting and covering of urban streams and rivers can be allowed in the garb of storm water management, riverfront development, River Improvement, etc.
  • Rainwater Harvesting It is good to see that Smart Cities has introduced 100% rainwater harvesting as prerequisite under storm water management. Indeed Rainwater harvesting is delinked from Storm water management plans of cities, which typically include only channelization and opening up of real estate close to stream, thus affecting storm water drainage. As Climate change makes extreme weather events like Mumbai rains of 26th July 2005  more common, storm water drainage in Smart Cities is a critical issue and recharging rainwater could lead to significant decrease in urban run off.
  • Recharge zones in urban settings are also important. In several countries, urban recharge zones are created as recreational spaces and Rain Gardens to recharge groundwater and arrest water logging at the same time.
  • Concreting and channelizing urban streams, which are amazing recreational, ecological and educational grounds should not be allowed in the name of 0% water logging incidents.


    Rain Gardens or Bioretention spaces for reducing run off and rechargimg groundwater

Smart Cities are self reliant:

In the time of Climate Change when rainfall is becoming more and more erratic, Urban centers can no longer seek security from far away water sources. Already, the tentacles of urban areas have extended far and wide. They need decentralized and multiple solutions which are flexible to respond to climate change. Fortunately, most cities themselves have resources like Rainwater, local tanks and water bodies, groundwater, sewage re-treatment and reuse on which they can depend for their needs to a large extent. Innovation in this field can not only solve a number of complex problems, but give a fillip to skilled employment and economy as well.

As the Working Group on Urban and Industrial Water Supply and Sanitation of the 12th Five Year plan states:

“The agenda for change requires each city to consider, as first source of supply its local water body. Unless these structures are built into the water supply infrastructure, there will be only lip service for protection and at best, efforts to ‘beautify’ the lakefront for recreational purpose, not for it’s essential life-giving service. Therefore, cities must only get funds for water projects, when they have accounted for the water supply from local water bodies. This condition is vital. It will force protection and will build the infrastructure, which will supply locally and then take back sewage – the water’s waste connection — also locally.” (Emphasis added)

Several aspects need to be included in this before cities can be allowed any additional water from far away sources, including exhausting full potential of rainwater harvesting, full treatment, recycle and reuse of treated sewage, full protection to the existing water ecosystem components, fully democratic decentralised bottom up governance, exhausting potential of demand side management, reduction in T&D losses to below 10%, among others. Today none of them are in place so Delhi finds it easier to demand water from Renuka Dam, Kishau Dam or Lakhwar dam or even Sharda Yamuna Link, and Mumbai finds it easier to demand dams like Kalu, Shai, Balganga or Damanganga River Link without  achieving any of the norms listed above. These are disastrous options.

In conclusion:

Implementation Guidelines of Smart City Mission and AMRUT will be out shortly. We are hoping that they address the core governance issues and look for a radical new direction for managing water and natural resources in urban settings. Let us hope that Smart Cities and newer urban centers and settlements are based not only on infrastructure and ‘explosive growth of cement, metal and plastics’, but innovation, sustainability and effective democratic governance as well. After all, it is not only infrastructure that gives fillip to the economy, sustained boost comes of innovation and a system which enables innovations and sustainable, participatory and low cost solutions to arise as well!

– Parineeta Dandekar, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP









[viii] Chapter Four of ‘Performance Audit of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission by CAG’




[xii] Chapter Seven of ‘Performance Audit of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission by CAG’






[xviii] Draft Concept Note  on Smart City Scheme available at



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One Comment on “Smart Cities need Smart Governance more than heavy infrastructure

  1. Pingback: Smart cities in times of climate change, erratic rainfall: Stop seeking water security from far away sources | C O U N T E R V I E W . O R G

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