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

Section 8

Summary of Policy Issues

Improvements in the planning and delivery of services are essential to promote more efficient use of water resources, but must be complemented by an effective framework for overall water resources management.

Policy Framework

When India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), on December 3, 2005, he referred to the fact that in the early part of this century 50 percent of the population of India will be living in cities. Rapid urbanization has already outpaced infrastructure development and has been accompanied by a proliferation of slums, increased homelessness, growth in urban poverty and crime, and an increase in pollution and ecological change. To date, efforts to address urban problems have focused on the planning and implementation of development projects but too little attention has been paid to the people themselves.

The JNNURM seeks to redress this by improving the quality of life of urban residents through security of tenure, improved housing, and essential services.

The JNNURM recognizes that this will require reforms in policies, laws, statutes, and procedures, particularly those that inhibit the functioning of land and housing markets, to align them with the contemporary needs of India’s cities and towns. To achieve its objectives, in addition, the JNNURM recognizes the importance of institutional reform and the need to improve the performance of municipal government and service providers.

It will encourage and assist city governments to (a) improve property tax collection; (b) apply user charges that cover at least operation and maintenance costs; (c) introduce improved accounting and transparency in local budgets; and (d) institutionalize a higher degree of community participation in the decisionmaking processes. These are sweeping changes and the success of the mission will depend on its ability to enlist the support of a large number of partners and stakeholders.

These guidelines recommend practical tactical strategies for overcoming obstacles to improving water supply and sanitation services for the urban poor but, in many cases, overcoming the obstacles will require more than tactical strategies. It will require changes in policies or legislation, or their implementation. Even where policy reform is not essential, the proposed strategies might benefit from a more supportive policy or legal environment. A diagnosis of national, state, and municipal policy and frameworks, and how they are implemented, may be needed to determine where the gaps, overlaps, and inconsistencies exist.

Some policy changes and legal amendments will undoubtedly be warranted. However, in many cases, while current policies themselves may be adequate, their implementation is weak, or they may not be understood and appreciated by the key actors. In those cases, strategies to improve the implementation of policies may be needed.25

25 This might seem like a daunting task in the Indian context but, if properly focused, it is quite feasible. A useful approach would be to establish an evaluation methodology that could be applied in all the states for the purpose of reviewing their legal frameworks and proposing revisions. Initially the approach could be piloted in one or two states and a representative number of municipalities. Once the methodology is refined it could be used by other states. Such an exercise was carried out in Mexico in 2003-04: the legal frameworks of all 31 states, the Federal District, and several major cities were reviewed.

List of Policy Issues Associated with the Proposed Strategies

Some of the key policy issues that need to be addressed in the context of the proposed strategies have been identified in each of the previous sections of these Guidance Notes. These are consolidated below.

Give the Poor a Voice

The relevant policy reforms that would enhance the voice of the poor in planning and delivering service improvements include:

• Establishing requirements for greater transparency in all aspects of service planning and delivery, and more public access to information.
• Formulating local policies to print materials in local languages.
• Setting down requirements or incentives for utilities to create the institutional mechanisms to promote better client relations and special units to assist the poor.
• Removing barriers that prevent the poor from participating in elections and running for office.

Take Vested Interests into Account

Policy reforms that would reduce opportunities for illegal activities that inhibit reform include:

• Legalizing and regulating small service providers.
• Initiating policies that would promote more competition among small service providers.
• Creating policies and procedures to promote transparency and public access to information.

Eliminate Administrative and Legal Barriers

Lack of land tenure is one of the major barriers to access to services by poor households. Removing this obstacle requires:

• Initiating land tenure reform.
• Linking service provision to long-term occupancy, not land ownership.
• Streamlining or simplifying procedures for poor residents.

Strengthen Capacity, Autonomy, and Accountability of Service Providers

Legislation or de facto practices regarding the respective roles of key actors and their institutional formats may not clearly distinguish roles or promote accountability. This may result in gaps or overlapping responsibilities. Regulations or their enforcement may not allow for adequate flexibility in technical solutions. Reforms may be needed to ensure:

• Adopting management models that promote the autonomy and accountability of service providers.
• Establishing effective tariff regulation, mechanisms for monitoring service quality, and incentives for service providers to operate efficiently and provide reliable services.
• Clarifying the responsibilities of states and municipalities and the elimination of any overlaps, inconsistencies, and gaps in their roles.
• Adopting minimum standards that can be adapted to local conditions and needs.

Adopt Appropriate Investment Finance, Cost Recovery, and Subsidy Policies

All the recommended actions require a supportive and rational financial framework. Existing laws should be evaluated to determine whether they allow and provide for:

• The principle of full cost recovery for services.
• Targeted subsidies for investments and connections (but not tariff subsidies) for poor households, where warranted.
• Tariffs that recover all operation and maintenance costs at the minimum.
• Reliable sources of subsidies so that the financial viability of service providers is not compromised.

Overcome Physical and Technical Barriers

Improvements in the planning and delivery of services are essential to promote more efficient use of water resources, but must be complemented by an effective framework for overall water resources management. This requires national, regional, and local solutions. In poor communities this often has to do with the specific local topography or geology and requires local adaptations and solutions. Existing legislation should be evaluated to determine whether it promotes:

• Coherent national, regional, and local approaches to effective water resources management.
• The reduction of water losses by utilities and the adoption of water-saving technologies by customers.
• Flexibility for environmental and technical standards and management models to be adapted to local needs and conditions.

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