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Nobody’s baby: Water woes in JnNURM housing colony of Bowrampet

The gap between the demand and supply of housing in India has been at a rise, specifically in the urban areas due to in-migration. The opportunities that urban areas provide in terms of employment, education, health care and better living standards have been acting as an impetus to this population shift. A majority of the migrants belong to the low-income groups and access to a decent house with bare minimum services in urban areas remains out of their reach. Alternatively, they settle in slums and squatter settlements that are devoid of even the basic amenities.  In order to address these issues of immense housing shortage and to bring about a renewal in urban areas, a number of policies and programmes were introduced by the state and the central government since mid-2000.

Jawaharlal National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) was one such landmark initiative introduced in 2005 by the central government that aimed at creating economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive cities. One of the strategies adopted to achieve this was through the provision of Basic Services to Urban Poor (BSUP). Contrary to its intention of providing basic services, BSUP became a housing construction project and most of these BSUP housing colonies were being constructed in the peripheries of cities where vast tracts of land is easily available as compared to the urban core. One such BSUP colony was constructed in Bowrampet, a peri-urban area in Medchal district in Telangana.

The colony houses 3120 flats and the occupancy since its construction have been as low as 50% mostly due to poor civic infrastructure and other facilities, specially the lack of piped water supply. The water for domestic use is supplied through overhead tank that is tapped through borewells (one borewell for 4 buildings and each building has 24 flats). There have been reports of water scarcity even during normal season, which worsened during the droughts in 2015 and 2016. The water table fell to an extent that led to borewell failure resulting in complete dependence on tanker water. Even where borewells were functioning the water pressure was found to be low due to which pumping to overhead tanks was not possible. In this case water had to be fetched from the common standpost.

For this section of population majority of which are employed as daily wage labourers, purchasing water tankers remains out of their reach. But due to absence of an alternative supply, they were forced to do so during the lean season in 2015 and 2016. 200 litre, blue colored drums, lined up on the road was a common sight in the colony. The residents fill water in these drums when the tanker comes. Residents of the second and third floor especially women have expressed of extreme hardships that they had to face in carrying water from the ground floor to their homes.

“I have a family of seven. We’ve been living here since 2013. We have a lot of water problem in this colony. Every second day I fill water from the ground floor and carry it till the second floor. From there my daughter carries it till our house on the fourth floor. Even for flushing toilet we use this water only.” (Fatima, a Muslim, who bound by cultural norms, cannot let her daughter collect water from the common tap because it is also accessed by other male members of the colony)

This woman has been diagnosed with abdominal pain, which could be the result of carrying heavy weights according to the doctor. During the field visit several other women in the colony have also reported of such pains. There is also lack of drinking water supply. Majority of the households purchase treated water from the Reverse Osmosis plant, which is priced at 10 rupees per 20 litres, which increases to 20 rupees for 20 litres during lean season. A combined account of this is a greater share of their income going towards purchasing water for domestic and drinking needs.

The case presented above is a clear deviation from the very intent of the programme to provide basic services to the urban poor. It reveals the following:

  • While such massive programmes are envisaged with a very ambitious vision, there appears to be a disjuncture across various government departments and agencies in its planning and execution; most often resulting in the authorities washing their hands off in taking responsibility for providing even the basic needs such as water.
  • Peri-urban areas find home to such mega projects due to cheap and easy availability of land, which results in creation of multiple and competing uses over water. This creates an immense pressure over this scarce resource that is further intensified due to extreme climatic events such as drought. Therefore, in such situations access to this scarce resource is determined by the bargaining power and often the poorest of the poor struggle in accessing this basic need.

By Monica Priya


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