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Making cities really liveable

Quality of Our urban services delivery in the water, waste, and energy sectors is poor, to say the least. This is mainly due to legacy systems, inadequate funding, and restrictive policy and regulation. At the same time, across the world, efficient and equitable urban service delivery is seen as the key to bettering the quality of life. Therefore, unless we improve the quality of services our cities cannot become ‘liveable’ in the truest sense of the word.

According to the data published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (Central Statistics Office 2018), residential and commercial buildings consume 34 percent of the country’s total electricity. With India expected to add 35 billion square meters of new buildings by 2050, managing the total building energy consumption in urban areas will be a crucial step to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is important to address this too, given the massive environmental and economic cost implications of energy generation.

Further, data from the Ministry of Environment show that only 50 to 80 percent of generated waste is collected, of which only about 40 percent is segregated, leading to excessive landfilling and incineration. Gaps in service provisioning for collection are often filled by unauthorized and unregulated waste collectors who improperly dispose of waste through open dumping, dumping in water bodies, and/or burning. This is causing air and water pollution, and also increasing the likelihood of disease. There is a pressing need to address the negative impact on the environment, public health, and the quality of life of sanitation workers and their families.

The poor record of our urban local bodies (ULBs) on these fronts stems from the fact that most of these bodies are handicapped by resource crunch. The 74th constitutional amendment recommends devolution of powers to ULBs for the planning and implementation of public utilities and infrastructure. Yet, they remain poorly funded and unempowered to address the pressing issues of basic service provisioning. Investment in urban infrastructure offers a cost-effective way to target beneficiaries due to urban density, but municipal expenditure has remained stagnant at 1 percent of gross domestic product for over a decade.

With India’s urban population estimated to grow by 416 million by 2050 (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2019), the demand for efficient urban service delivery and resources is set to grow manifold.

Therefore, scale and urgency of India’s urban challenge requires solutions that go beyond incremental improvements, and overcome time and resource constraints to tackle urban service delivery effectively and sustainably. Innovation offers the capacity to provide services in a swift, economical, and sustainable manner. Collaboration across the innovation ecosystem of enterprises, investors, academia, and government can break silos, pool resources, and leverage skills across stakeholder groups. It can also help governments design and deploy citizen-centered services that are inclusionary.

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