Our workshop with graduate students in Noida revealed some peculiar yet distressing practices that are prevalent in informal settlements of dense cities. Covering an area of 189,000 square meters, right below a high voltage transmission line, the settlements, which are home to 11,700 families, have grown stronger by substantiating their permanence over the last 30 years.[1] They have survived despite any government aid and prospered to a self-propelled economy offering wide range of services to the neighborhood. With an established welfare association engaging in developmental work, the settlements seem resilient to stay unperturbed for a long time to come. A great degree of resourcefulness can be witnessed, where efficiency follows function and human standards are questioned everyday. Right from building materials to the technology employed, a paradigm shift is visible in a way tomorrow‘s informal neighborhoods will be build and function. But they are marred with poor foresight and short-term planning.

While lots of care and efficiency goes in storage and daily use of water, the regard for groundwater and sewage is clearly absent. Groundwater is the only source and routine tapping has resulted in alarming depletion of water table. Dearth of a proper sewage system pollutes groundwater and further exposes children to water-borne diseases. Water vendors, which play an important part in service delivery, enjoy a total monopoly in selling water as a commodity.[2] The lack of ­­­potent laws and government’s helplessness have conceived an unregulated bottling industry that distributes unsafe drinking water to neighborhoods, while posing a big threat to human life.

Acknowledging water vendors, as an integral part of the system, will help to initiate implementations of more comprehensive and trusted policies, which will eventually serve end-users better. Interests of customers, vendors, and utilities will be better resolved through official recognition of their roles and responsibilities. Involving neighborhood participation in rainwater harvesting to replenish existing stepwells as catch water basins and waste segregation and management will promote a healthy environment and self-sufficiency. Urban planning strategies could provide a pragmatic approach to the way infrastructure services will function as open network systems in the future.

Gunnar Hartmann with Cibi Coimbatore and Jaideep Acharya.

[1] Singh. Shivendra. K, (June 12, 2013), Slum soil business prospects of Noida Inc, The Economic Times. Website. Retrieved July 5, 2016.

[2] Kjellen.M & McGranahan.G, (2006), Informal Water Vendors and the Urban Poor, International Institute for Environment and Development.: London, IIED.