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Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor in India

Section 4

Eliminate Administrative and Legal Barriers

Simplifying procedures for connection, billing, and collection services, and maintenance arrangements are part of the institutional process of recognizing the differences between customers in planned and unplanned areas of the city.


• Land ownership and tenure issues often create a barrier to the provision of service to the poor.
• The poor may be unaware of administrative and legal requirements, or find it difficult to understand them and comply. Municipal policies often prevent utilities from providing connections to residents who do not have legal tenure. Most legislation on land tenure is outdated, irrelevant to current realities, and cannot be enforced. Complex procedures not only constitute a barrier for the poor, they create opportunities for bribes to be extracted from existing or prospective users, and such bribes represent a heavier burden for the poor than for the nonpoor.

Delink Service Provision from Land Tenure

Legal reform is needed to enable the poor to gain secure tenure, adequate housing, and services. In the meantime, though, innovative strategies to get around land tenure requirements can sometimes be found at the local level. One such approach is to allow alternative documentation. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) had a longstanding requirement that only slum residents presenting both land title documents and recent property tax receipts could qualify for individual water and sanitation connections but, as part of its program to promote connections in slums, agreed to permit residents to present lease documents and other ‘proof of occupancy’ documents such as ration cards, identity cards, election cards or electricity bills instead. (See Case Study 10, accompanying volume.) The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation allows connections and other improvements to proceed once residents obtain a ‘no objection certificate’ from the owner of the land. Nongovernmental organizations working with the Ahmedabad Corporation have helped the communities to obtain these certificates. (See Case Study 1, accompanying volume.)

Another approach to get around the lack of land tenure is to make a single bulk water or sewerage connection at the border of the community and allow communities or small-scale service providers to operate services. Several of the previously cited cases—for example, in the Orangi community in Karachi, Tiruchirapalli city in Tamil Nadu, and Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya—used this model. Box 5 describes another example in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Institutionalize Simplified Procedures and Provide Assistance

Formal institutions can be very intimidating for the poor unless special arrangements are made to promote and facilitate access. Connecting a large unserved population is a major long-term undertaking that will require ongoing support and assistance even after poor residents are connected. As part of this long-term effort, utilities and municipal service providers need to adjust their systems to attend to this new, potentially large, customer base.

Simplifying procedures for connection, billing, and collection services, and maintenance arrangements are part of the institutional process of recognizing the differences between customers in planned and unplanned areas of the city. In India and throughout South Asia, the percentage of inhabitants living in unplanned parts of cities is significant and growing. A permanent body that can help institutionalize effective approaches throughout the utility will make it less likely that changes in management or political leadership will undermine or reverse this initiative for expanding services in a sustainable manner.

The Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (in addition to the Customer Care Office described in Box 11) created a Single Window Cell to receive, process, and coordinate water and sewerage connection applications. Another potentially effective model is a dedicated unit within the utility that communicates with poor communities, assists them with formalities, promotes appropriate services, and liaises with other stakeholders. The Social Development Unit in the BWSSB, India, is an example (see Box 6).

Successful programs have involved not only changes in organizational culture and staff attitudes, but also the establishment of client-friendly mechanisms that facilitate communications with customers. The Citizen Report Card, a tool for assessing customer satisfaction that was originally used in Bengaluru, has been introduced in several countries. (See discussion in Section 5.)

Box 5: Community-Managed Services in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

About 380,000 people live in poor peri-urban areas of Tegucigalpa. One-third of these peri-urban residents do not have direct access to the water supply network and most do not have access to sewerage. Many of the peri-urban settlements cannot be connected because of the topography (hillsides with steep slopes and unstable terrain), others because of their illegal status, and some because of the lack of adequate resources to extend the network. Residents of these areas obtain water from a number of sources, including tankers, rainwater catchments, and community wells.

With the assistance of several international development agencies and nongovernmental organizations, the National Autonomous Water and Sewerage Service (SANAA) is introducing alternative water and sanitation systems in these areas. These systems receive bulk water from SANAA or its tankers but are managed internally by the community. Three water supply models are used. The preferred model involves a metered connection to SANAA’s network that feeds a community storage tank, to which the secondary network within the community is connected. Where connection to the network is not feasible, the community storage tank is supplied by tankers. The third option is a rainwater catchment and filtering system. A revolving fund is used to finance construction and the beneficiary community repays the fund at zero interest over 5 to 10 years. Communities that wish to benefit from this program must establish a water administration board with four officers selected by the community. The water boards operate and maintain the system, collect fees from the users to cover their own costs as well as the bulk water charges and the capital cost. They organize committees and engage staff to maintain the system, operate community water taps, collect fees, and prevent theft. Committees are also established to educate the community about water use and hygiene.

Source: Rivera, Kenneth. Improving Water Supply, Sanitation, and Health Services for Low-Income Urban Communities in Latin America—A Case of Tegucigalpa. Building Partnerships for Development, draft of May 2006 (part of field research conducted in seven Latin American cities). (See also Case Study 15, accompanying volume.)

Box 6: Dedicated Units in Water Utilities (Hyderabad and Bengaluru)

Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board created a Single Window Cell to receive, process, and coordinate water and sewerage connection applications. The Single Window Cell distributes a detailed two-page brochure that clearly explains the application procedures. A dedicated team of staff and contract laborers installs all approved new connections for which payment has been received. These reforms have reduced the time required to process connections from six months to three months and have significantly increased the number of applications processed.

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board has a Social Development Unit, which focuses on connecting households in slums to piped water and sewerage. This unit is headed by a proactive senior development specialist who interacts directly and effectively with community groups, nongovernmental organizations, and influential individuals to promote communication, implement connection programs, resolve complaints, and so on. The Social Development Unit also uses NGOs as intermediaries to assist households with the application process and facilitate communications. To promote connections, the unit has introduced a reduced connection fee and simplified connection procedures. It also accepts ‘proof of occupancy’ in lieu of the requirement for land tenure. Residents of slums are encouraged to connect to the Board’s water supply system and are actively discouraged from resorting to illegal means. Connection charges vary on the basis of house size: Rs 550 (US$12)11  for houses of less than 150 square feet, Rs 800 (US$17) for houses of 150–600 square feet, and the full rate of Rs 1,800 (US$39) for houses over 600 square feet. Slum dwellers are allowed to pay the connection charges in two installments.

Source: Water and Sanitation Program–South Asia. January 2007. Bangalore Water Service Delivery, Ingenious Model Shows the Way. Case Study. (See Case Studies 8 and 10, accompanying volume.)

11 US$1 = INR 46 (as of September 30, 2008). Conversion rates are from www.exchange-rates.org/history/INR/USD/T; all conversions in the text are approximations.

Getting Started: Actions and Resources

This section suggests the following actions for sector actors:

Policymakers and Project Planners

• Initiate land tenure reforms.
• Amend municipal laws and regulations that make it difficult or impossible for the poor to get services.
• Authorize alternative documentation requirements for connections. Governance Bodies and Service Providers
• Adopt alternative documentation requirements, such as proof of residence or no-objection from the owner of the land, to allow those who lack land tenure to qualify for service connections.
• Explore alternative service models such as installing bulk water or sewerage connections at the border of poor communities from/to which a community-based organization or small-scale private operator can take responsibility for the operation and maintenance of network services within the community.
• Simplify procedures and forms, and translate forms and instructions into local languages.
• Create dedicated user-friendly units to promote service to the poor.
• Design access mechanisms (for connections, complaints, and so on) that are appropriate for the poor, and appoint qualified professionals or engage nongovernmental organizations to assist the poor with procedures and forms.

Advocates and Civil Society Organizations

• Assist poor residents to obtain documentation required for connections.
• Support communities to negotiate with the utility for the establishment of a bulk connection and to create CBOs or engage small-scale private operators to operate services.
• Develop programs to assist the poor with procedures and forms.

Table 3: Relevant Case Studies in Accompanying Volume

Case Study Topic
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (Case Study 1) Alternative documentation
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (Case Study 10) Alternative documentation; dedicated unit in utility to promote service to the poor
Hyderabad Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (Case Study 8) Dedicated unit in utility to promote connections
Orangi Project, Karachi, Pakistan (Case Study 5) Bulk connection at border of community
Tegucigalpa, Honduras (Case Study 15) Bulk connection at border of community
Tiruchirapalli City (Case Study 7) Bulk connection at border of community

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