Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA)

India is ranked as the world’s 13th most water-stressed country by the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas¹. According to the NITI Aayog’s report², India is placed 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index, with nearly 70 per cent of water being contaminated. Both surface water and groundwater in India are highly exploited; it is no surprise that the country’s water challenges are multifaceted and diverse. In this article, Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) brings to light the aforementioned subject and the government’s efforts to achieve SDG 6.3.

UN Indicator for SDG 6.3

Water pollution is a significant factor contributing to India’s water crisis. With rapid expansion of cities, and domestic water supply, the quantity of wastewater is also increasing rapidly. The biggest deficit in urban sanitation has been the inadequate treatment of wastewater. Anywhere between 80 and 90 per cent of wastewater in urban India is let out untreated into the environment, causing considerable public health impacts (the economic impacts of which were estimated at Rs 2,180 per capita per annum, the equivalent of about 6.4 per cent of India’s GDP in 2006³).


Untreated sewage-waste is one of the major causes of surface water and groundwater pollution in India. Raw waste material dumped in a water body usually cleans itself through a natural action of stream and self-purification. However, rapid urbanisation and the resulting rising population has led to an increase in sewage discharge that far exceeds the speed of natural purification. Wastewater is let out untreated due to the lack/unavailability of sewerage network and discharged into the natural drainage system causing pollution downstream. Owing to lack of or improper treatment facilities, wastewater carrying toxic effluents is often discharged into surface water bodies, resulting in pollution. Wastewater should be treated efficiently to avert adverse health risk to the user of surface water resources and the aquatic ecosystem.

As per the recent National Inventory of Sewage Treatment Plants published by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2021, there are 1,631 STPs (including proposed STPs) with a total capacity of 36,668 MLD covering 35 states/UTs. Out of these 1,631 STPs, 1,093 are operational, 102 are non-operational, 274 are under construction and 162 STPs are proposed for construction. When compared to the previous inventory of STPs (2014), it is discovered that sewage treatment capacity has increased by 50 per cent; however, the gap remains enormous, as sewage generation is estimated to be 72,368 MLD, capacity utilisation is only 20,235 MLD, and the remaining quantity of 52,133 MLD is let-out as untreated sewage. Various missions under the Government of India such as Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM 2.0), National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT 2.0) have been taking initiatives to reduce the sewage generation and treatment gap and also putting equal emphasis on reuse of treated wastewater as part of developing a water secure India. Currently, only a few states in the country have implemented wastewater management policies, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. In the absence of a blanket national mandate and standard regulations throughout states to manage the untreated wastewater pouring into bodies of water, the initiatives of a few states to control water pollution are not enough.


Source: Economic and Political Weekly

India’s urban population is projected to grow rapidly and generate mounting volumes of urban wastewater, driving the need for increased investments in developing wastewater systems centralised, decentralised or nature-based solutions to manage flows and protect downstream areas.

Also Read | Assessing wastewater management in India and its water reuse potential

With only 30 per cent of wastewater treated before discharge (and a small amount is reused), India has an immense opportunity to capitalise on projects that treat wastewater for recycling and reuse. Widespread water recycling and reuse offers a reliable, long-term water supply source for helping meet both potable and non-potable demand. By reusing treated wastewater, India can significantly bridge the supply-demand gap.

Reclaimed water/treated wastewater could also represent a key source for meeting the country’s vast agricultural demand, reducing the strain on depleted groundwater resources. Further non- potable uses of reclaimed water include irrigation, toilet flushing, fire protection, dust control, and air-conditioning. In industry, reclaimed water treated to higher qualities can be used for cooling applications, as boiler feedwater, or to help meet a variety of industrial process water needs. In addition, reclaimed water purified to drinking standards can be used to recharge aquifers, augment reservoirs and potable supplies.

Reuse of treated wastewater can play an important role in maintaining sustainable use of water resources. India needs to take timely measures to avoid a series of associated problems, ranging from health issues due to poor sanitation and conflicts over water access to food security and climate change. Regulatory/ policy interventions by the Central and state governments, further to the existing ones, are needed for encouraging innovative reuse projects. The interventions will need to focus on incentivising the use of reclaimed water, and developing institutional support mechanisms. Another aspect to manage the treated wastewater is the monitoring of the treated wastewater coming out of the treatment plants. Innovation in the field of automatic data monitoring systems in the form of dashboards can help the cities in making definitive decisions. Capacity building of cities is another such area where cities need the handholding from the state, Central government and experts in the field of wastewater management.

Percentage of Cities

Distribution of cities by sewer connections
Source: Urban Water Supply and Wastewater (Policy Framework), MoHUA

NIUA is nudging states and cities through several initiatives like creation of River Cities Alliance (RCA), capacity building of ULB officials on wastewater management & reuse of treated wastewater, waterbody diagnostic tool etc. to catalyse progressive action in the water and wastewater management sector through the adoption of improved management solutions. The objective of NIUA is to strengthen the policy interface, create innovative guidelines, networking and plug capacity building in the wastewater management sector. NIUA is devoted to assisting states and cities in aligning with the SDGs and initiating a conversation for future orientations in India’s wastewater sector through substantial research, policy advisory, data solutions, technology, and capacity building.

1. Earth, D. t., 2019. India, world’s 13th most water stressed country:WRI, New Delhi: Down to Earth.
2. Aayog, N., 2019. Composite Water Management Index, New Delhi: NITI Aayog.
3. Wankhade, K., n.d. Operationalising SDG 6 in Urban India, Bangalore: IIHS Bangalore


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