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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 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)
  2. [2]
  3. [3] Detailed GIS map of Water Bodies in Delhi –
  4. [4] Paper Authors: Jyoti Sharma (FORCE), Aparna Das(GIZ) and Shubham Mishr(GIS Consultant)

“Shopeeing” trouble

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Walking through the bustling lanes of Rajouri Garden, West Delhi’s shopping epicenter, one often gets bitten by the splurging bug. For the shopping buffs, it is not merely the experience of picking items randomly but the whole pleasure of going through the process of satisfying the material craving that matters.

Traditional Indian market places like Rajouri Garden might be a delightful stopover for women shoppers, however the lack of the most basic facilities like a toilet can make the shopping a harrowing experience.

The sprawling market, best known for its bridal wear, does not have a toilet for neither women nor men. Even the glass-chrome shops selling saris, suits and lehngas do not have a washroom facility. Even in the case that there is one available, it is so dirty that one prefers to avoid it. Most salesmen and girls; there are hundreds of them, use a public toilet which is located slightly away from the main complex. Men conveniently use backlanes, or simply a wall, or a corner. Women have no such ‘luxury’.

The toilet crisis is not limited to Rajouri Garden alone. It is the same in most markets in Delhi; the coming up of swanky malls has addressed the problem to a great extent. But the old traditional markets, which still remain relevant as they offer great room to bargain, have failed to cater to even the most basic amenity.

I sometimes wonder why toilets are not considered an important part of our daily lives in public space.

When I was a child I used to visit my ancestral village in Kumoun. Being a Delhi girl, it was unimaginable to stay in a house without a toilet. I was told that toilets are dirty and impure so cannot be inside the house. It was not easy to go to the open field to answer the call of nature. So my visits to my village became less and less, despite the fact that I wanted so much to spend time with my grandmother. The toilets appeared in the villages of Kumoun when I started going to college, but they were still not inside the house.

As a young woman reporter, I have been lucky to visit some villages in India, but the toilet story remains the same all across. As a working journalist, one experiences the problem while on assignments. If you are covering a rally away from Delhi, men find it so easy to relieve themselves but women go through hell. No arrangements are made by the organisers as they expect women also to go to the fields. And many of us have done it often.

During a visit to Lucknow (to see changes in educational institutions), I was horrified to see that tiny toddlers (mostly girls) would go home from school every time they had to ease themselves. This was the main reason the teachers said the parents don’t send girls to school.

I felt ashamed that despite so many years of independence we are not able to provide toilets to our children. This was some years ago. I hope situation has changed now.

I visited Greater Noida last year and was pleasantly surprised to see a nicely built toilet in a government school. But I soon discovered that it was merely a showpiece as the toilet could not be used because of no water. Girls didn’t use the toilet. They had nowhere to go during the school hours and wait to reach home. Most of them had not even heard of problems like Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) which can be contracted by holding the bladder for too long.

Well, there are countless other stories I can narrate about the missing toilet and how it has impacted the society; mostly girls.

Through this blog the attempt is to create awareness and also to also create a buzz about the need for sanitation in India.

And it is not the duty of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone (who had promised from the ramparts of the Red Fort during his maiden speech about building toilets and making India clean), it is the duty of every Indian.

— Kavita Bajeli-Datt has been writing on development, women, child and health issues for the last 20 years. She was awarded Deepalaya award for best writing on child rights in 2000. Kavita is an avid traveler and loves to explore new territories. Her travel pieces have appeared in several publications across the world. Kavita has worked in The Week and Press Trust of India (PTI). She was the Chief of Bureau in the IANS (Indo-Asian News Service) where she spearheaded the news coverage. She is also an accomplished Kathak dancer and performed in India and abroad. She is working as an Independent writer contributing for various publications, including IANS and Tribune. She is also a member of the Advocacy, Branding and Communications (ABC) Task Force of India Sanitation Coalition (ISC).