Policy Round Table on Urban Water Issues, 5 January 2016

Researchers Veena Srinivasan and Sharachchandra Lele from ATREE's Land, Water and Livelihoods Programme along with K.J. Joy (SOPPECOM) and Prof. N. C. Narayanan (IIT Bombay) organized a Policy Round Table on Urban Water Issues at the 8th Biennial Conference of the Indian Society of Ecological Economics (INSEE). The event was held on 5 January 2016 at the Satish Dhawan Auditorium, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The audience included close to 200 scholars and practitioners from India and abroad, with representation from many countries.

India is undergoing a massive urban transition. By 2031, 600 million people will reside in Indian cities, up from 400 million today. Cities will provide an estimated 70% of new jobs and 70% of the GDP. One of the biggest challenges is to provide water and manage the wastewater generated by burgeoning cities. The Policy Roundtable addressed critical debates on urban water issues in India.


  1. Mr. Arvind Shrivastava, IAS, Secretary (Budget & Resources), Government of Karnataka. In the past he has served as Secretary, Urban Development and Managing Director of Karnataka Urban Infrastructure and Finance and Development Corporation.
  2. Mr. S. Vishwanath, Director of Biome Environmental Solutions, Advisor to Arghyam Foundation and Secretary General, International Rainwater Catchment Systems Association.
  3. Mr. K. J. Joy, an activist-researcher, Secretary of the Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM) and the convener of the Forum for Water Conflicts in India, who has actively participated in movements for equitable water distribution, resource literacy, people's science, developing alternatives for drought proofing, etc.
  4. Prof. Mohan Kumar, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore who specializes in groundwater and surface water flow modelling and urban water quantity / quality modeling in distribution systems.

The session was moderated by Veena Srinivasan, Fellow & Programme Leader of the Land, Water and Livelihoods Programme.

This panel discussed the challenges and opportunities in urban water supply in two broad areas:

  1. Future water resources for cities:
    In the past the default policy for urban water supply has been to build large inter-basin transfer projects by going further and further away for water. This has become increasingly difficult as such large projects are becoming more expensive and harder to execute and perhaps more vulnerable to climate variability and change. Given this, what will the urban water portfolio of the future look like? If different from the present approach, what changes need to occur in terms of financing, regulation and engineering design standards at multiple levels to effect such a transition?
  2. Urban water distribution policy:
    In recent years, there has been a push to promote 24/7 water supply in Indian cities. Academic papers on the requirements and results of such a transition are scarce. In the absence of a solid evidence base, the whole premise has been questioned.

The panelists reflected on this questions brining in their very diverse perspectives, normative lenses and experiences which made for a very lively discussion.