Guest Author: Vijay Kumar | Sr. Adviser | DHI India

It is no wonder that “Smart Cities” is a core program of the Indian Government right now; as India is making the move to urban living faster and faster. By 2001 31% of Indians lived in cities, but by 2030 another 10% of India will have moved – over half a billion people living in cities. Urbanization makes a lot of sense for land and resource use – and provides more opportunities for those that move, but cities need sufficient and safe drinking water, sanitation, effective management of urban flooding, waste water treatment and rejuvenation of water bodies for recreation to make those cities sustainable and livable. Right now Indian cities do not have these necessities and as cities grow the gap is set to widen so that by 2050 India will have a countrywide shortfall of 327 m3 (

[1]). Availability of water is unevenly distributed and highly skewed across the regions of India; and even if water were transferred from surplus to water-short regions, smart ideas for its management will be needed to meet the water demands of the existing and new clusters of urban areas.

To meet the urban challenge, the Government of India has identified 98 cities and towns that will graduate to Smart Cities in next five years; and work with the first 20 of these cities has already commenced. Water Management in these smart cities should aim to provide maximum facility with the minimum water footprint and minimum investment. This means sufficient and safe water supply, efficient drainage system for management of urban floods, effective waste water management and rejuvenated healthy water bodies for recreation.

There are a lot of things to change to make Smart Cities water efficient:

  • Currently the water supply in most Indian cities is intermittent and unevenly distributed
  • The water supply has a very high “Non-Revenue Water (NRW) – water produced and “lost” before it reaches the customer – of 40-50%.
  • The “grey water” from kitchens and bathrooms goes straight back into the water table and causes chemical pollution and eutrophication.
  • Almost all Indian cities have a planned water supply of 135-200 litres per capita per day (lpcd), but are unable to supply water on 24×7 basis. While advanced countries like Denmark provide a 24×7 supply with a consumption of only 100-110 lpcd. Though the climatic conditions in European countries favor lower water consumption, the major difference compared to India is far lower Non-Revenue Water. In Denmark they have only 5-10%.

So there is a lot to do, but there is also a lot that can be done:

  • Meticulous metering at various points and at the final consumer’s end, with leakage detection and control, asset management and cost recovery to meet operational expenses by urban local bodies is essential in the first phase of these new cities.
  • In water short areas re-cycling of grey water and its use for flushing, gardening, washing etc. will ensure a 24×7 water supply.
  • Water audits in these cities every 10 years with corrective measures taken to manage the assets will also help a lot.
  • Water Foot Printing for various industrial and agricultural products should be encouraged and printed on various products to increase public awareness to conserve water.
  • Planning and preparation of all new cities or sectors or refurbishing existing cities should take dual-pipe systems into account, so that it will be possible in the near future to supply households and industries with two types of water; for drink (“potable” water) and for all other “non-potable” purposes.
  • Smart Urban Flood Management and adaptation to Climate Change caused by shorter but heavier busts of precipitation will be essential in a smart city. Recent examples of Mumbai, Chennai and Srinagar emphasize the need for effective flood risk management. This can be achieved by real time forecasting and operations coupled with effective disaster management.
  • In addition, working with the city’s topography may also help in finding areas to intermittently store large volumes of rainwater, and by working intelligently with volumes and land, it may not be necessary to only use the traditional approach to install bigger and bigger sewer tubes.
  • Treatment of sewage needs to adhere to strict standards of organic matter, Nitrogen and Phosphorus levels.
  • Sewage Treatment Plants need to be located in the right places: during studies on the Yamuna Basin by DHI in 2010, we found that most of the Sewage Treatment Plants were under-utilized because of difficulties in getting land at appropriate location and there were consequent problems in transporting the sewage to the plants for treatment.
  • On top of everything else, most people working with water treatment do not have the necessary skills to actually operate such highly complicated systems.
  • A well-managed treatment system, working with sensor-technology and modern data-capture can often treat more wastewater to a better discharge quality – which defeats the very purpose of construction. For dealing with domestic sewage the focus of planning should shift from ‘sewer centric’ to ‘river centric’. As far as possible, Sewage should be treated in the nallah beds as soon as it arises by using technology like submerged Aerobic Fixed Film Reactor or other packaged plant technologies (already available in the market).

A quantum leap is needed if India is to really improve the water-situation within a few years, but it is essential to ensure the cities of the future are healthy places to live – ever larger and more complex as they will be. Increased focus on education is needed, together with bold politicians, willing to invest the effort needed to reach UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for water. Only then will India have Smart Cities.

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[1]On a countrywide basis per capita water availability in 2050 is estimated to be 1123 m3 but Central Water Commission estimate demand of 1450 m3