Effective Water Management Should be at Core of Urban Administration: KP Bakshi

KP Bakshi IAS

Transformation in India has been visible in recent years. The urban development, with onset of smart cities mission, has seen developments powered by advanced tech. Also, cities today are getting more resilient and citizen-friendly. Highlighting the facts, Elets Technomedia organised India Transformation Summit wherein K P Bakshi, Former Chairman, Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority, Maharashtra delivered his special address on ‘Innovations in ULBs: Future of Urban Governance’.

Mr Bakshi initially briefed about the Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority saying, “Maharashtra was one of the first few states to have regulatory authority in the water sector.”The Government of Maharashtra came out with a state water policy for the first time in 2003, he added.

Detailing on the water authority in Maharashtra, Mr Bakshi said, “It started with one chairman and two members in 2005. However, in 2017, when I joined, the authority had a chairman and four members –  one member from the economics field, one member as a legal expert, one water resource expert and a groundwater expert.” The core job of the authority is to regulate the distribution of the water in a way to fulfil the maximum requirement possible with an equitable distribution as water in the state is limited. Also, fixation of tariff for the distribution of water to commercial and domestic establishment also comes under the functioning of the authority.

Addressing the theme of the session, Mr Bakshi shares his experience of leading four city corporations of Amrawati, Nasik, Thane and Ullas. He said, “Urban administration has become complex now. It is one of the most important sectors of administration for an administrator.” The municipal commissioner has a very tough job as he does not have complete control over his priorities. Priorities can be set but the priorities tend to slide down due to lateral and vertical pressures. By lateral pressures, it is from the elected representatives, people, activists, etc. and the vertical pressures come from the hierarchy like the chief secretary, urban minister, etc., he added.

Adding on the problems in city administration across the country, Mr Bakshi points out, “All the people, elected representatives, activists, etc. look for visible development like construction activities, transit systems, beautification work, etc. However, the other important aspects which are not visible gets a low priority. For example – the underground drainage system, sewage treatment plants which people do not visit and see, etc.”

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The third problem arises with the allocation of funds. Primarily, funds are allocated for the construction of roads, drinking water supply but not much for sanitation unless the Centre steps in, etc. And, lastly, the treatment of sewage water does not have an established market. Hence, sewage treatment goes down in the priority list as after putting so much money, time and efforts the returns are not worth all this, added Mr Bakshi.

Hence, he called proper sewage treatment and management of wastewater as one of the hardest tasks for urban administrator.

Aligning a few solutions to the challenges he pointed out, Mr Bakshi said, “The urban administrator should have the power to notify the sewage treatment plant surrounding area as the ‘no-freshwater use zone’. Such a power should be conferred to the commissioner by the Urban Development department or regulatory authority.” Once, notifying the zone as ‘no-freshwater use zone’ then the department will not be in a position to supply freshwater to this area. By doing so, a market for treated water can be created and tariff for the same can be negotiated with farmers, industrialists or domestic establishments there for the supply of treated water, told Mr Bakshi.

Adding on he said, In case people refuse treated water and demands for freshwater then the tariff for freshwater should be exorbitant. However, if people accept the use of treated water the tariffs for the treated water must be brought down fairly. Citing examples of Nasik and Aurangabad farmers growing grapes, he said, these farmers preferred treated water as it contains few nutrients which is beneficial for the crops.

Summing up his address, Mr Bakshi said, “Trading of wastewater has been a concept in the water policy of Maharashtra and we have started working on it. As a first step, we started Wastewater Certificate which is tradable in case need to procure more water. Also, if we need to incorporate efficient water management there is a need for a ranking system for cities on the basis of reuse and recycling of water. Moreover, the rankings must be linked to tariffs so that those cities performing good in rankings have soft tariffs but those performing poorly must have hard tariffs so that people and the management can realise the drawback.”