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Are Waterbodies the poor man’s sewage sinks? And are the city’s poor doomed to live in areas prone to chronic sanitation, drainage and water logging problems?

The results of a GIS mapping based study done by FORCE[1] and funded by GIZ[2] as a part of its ICPP program, certainly seems to say so. This study was done to explore the linkages between water bodies in Delhi and resettlement colonies.

In terms of the status of sanitation in resettlement colonies, the study echoed the observations often voiced by Non-profits – that those are not substantially better than the conditions in unauthorized slums. The alarming fact revealed by the study is that prima facie, it seems that the poor sanitation condition has a far more basic genesis than was earlier assumed.

So far, social workers have assumed that the poor sanitation conditions are only because of a lack of co-ordination between the multiple authorities involved in rehabilitation of the poor. Delhi has a unique problem in this respect owing to the duality in its governance by both the central and state governments. Our detailed case studies verified this fact but also revealed another shocking fact.

Our detailed case studies revealed that it took a minimum of 10 years and upto 26 years from the time of construction to bring sewer lines into a resettlement colony! Organized garbage disposal systems seemed to be last on the priority list of the planners since it is not present even after 26 years in some areas. This means that for atleast 10 years, the residents of a resettlement colony live without any access to sewage and garbage disposal systems.

The resultant unscientific, unplanned and unhygienic coping up methods followed by residents are largely responsible for the horrible state of sanitation in these areas.

The most critical revelation of our study was, however, was that the Resettlement colonies were doomed to be plagued by sanitation problems from the day they were conceptualized. The reason is that there seems to be a clear tendency of Resettlements to be located within the core catchment of one or more water bodies.

jyoti-fig-1In 90% cases, water bodies[3] are located either within the boundaries of the resettlements or within a 1.5 km buffer zone. Thus, the land selected for the resettlements was topographically placed in a depressed zone. As a result there was an inherent tendency of the area to be waterlogged – an observation that was verified by the interviews conducted with residents of those areas. More importantly, the negative slope would make it difficult or very expensive to link the area’s internal sewerage and drainage with the peripheral trunk lines.

The fact that after 1990, there seems to be a clear trend towards locating the resettlements in the northern peripheral wards of Delhi, further writes the obituary of sanitation. Being the outermost, least developed parts of Delhi, there are no sewer trunk lines or garbage disposal points in the vicinity of any of the new resettlements. Hence, even if internal sewer lines are laid, there is no planned outfall for the sewage. The high water table in these areas makes the situation worse, as it not only makes sewage disposal difficult but also makes the groundwater more susceptible to contamination due to sewage seeping from internal drains and water bodies.

Thus the study unfolded a dual tragedy – the institutionalization of the neglect of Water Bodies and the neglect of the poor. It has shown a deliberate act of the government in choosing to make resettlement colonies within the core catchments of water bodies. Not only is this disastrous in terms of sanitation provisions for the resettlements, it sounds the death knell for water bodies too.

The key conclusion that emerges from this study is that, water bodies are playing the role of sanitation waste sinks even for planned resettlement colonies. In view of this and the fact that the choice of location makes the resettlements vulnerable to failure of sanitation systems, the policies governing Resettlement Planning need to be re-examined.

(Excerpt from a working paper on Delhi’s Water Bodies and Sanitation[4])

For more information on the topic or for discussion, you are welcome to email to jyoti@force.org.in


Jyoti Sharma, President FORCE and PJRM FORCE Trust. Also Taubman Fellow & SEIR at Brown University, USA


  1. [1] Forum for Organized Resource Conservation and Enhancement (FORCE) www.force.org.in
  2. [2] https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/368.html
  3. [3] Detailed GIS map of Water Bodies in Delhi – http://force.org.in/achievements/policy-research-innovations/water-bodies-delhi/
  4. [4] Paper Authors: Jyoti Sharma (FORCE), Aparna Das(GIZ) and Shubham Mishr(GIS Consultant)

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