ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Thinking Backwards

World Bank's Urban Water Report on India

The latest World Bank report on reform in India's urban water sector focuses on institutional and fi nancial arrangements between urban local bodies, water service providers and the customer. Like earlier reports, this too starts with a purely banking objective and works backwards to come up with policy advice. It fails to assimilate the technological boundaries of the sector, ignores strengthening of governance, building institutional capacity in research and training, and developing collaborations between governance and knowledge institutions.

Post-2000, World Bank (WB) projects and reports have had a substantial impact on the water sector in Maharashtra, and the rest of India. Through these projects and ­reports, the WB has influenced rural drinking water service provisioning, ­research in irrigation and groundwater, the setting up of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) as the independent regulatory body, and now, with the reports of 2006 and 2012, urban water reform. These reports have largely set the framework within which admini­strators, elected representatives and researchers have discussed these problems, the various minutiae of the recommendations and their pros and cons. This review points out the great externality in this debate, namely, the information asymmetry in the position of the WB vis-à-vis other participants, and the limitations that this poses in ­exploring the solution space.

The latest WB report on the water sector in India is titled “India: Improving ­Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Ser­vice Provision”. It reports on the work done by the WB in collaboration with several state bodies (those of Mahara­shtra, Rajasthan and Haryana), union bodies and external consultants (WB 2012). It should be read together with the earlier “Bridging the Gap between ­Infrastructure and Service” (WB 2006), another WB report, which sets much of the agenda for the reform of the urban ­water supply sector, as the WB sees it. The current report is important in two respects: (1) it sets out a clear series of steps by which reform should take place, and (2) it offers a report card on the progress made on this agenda in the three states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana. Our review of this part will concentrate on developments in ­Maharashtra. The report also presents a few “business plans” for the organisation of urban ­water supply and sanitation (WSS) systems along the lines suggested. The work was largely funded by the Non-lending Technical Assistance Progra­mme of the WB.

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