Is Stormwater Clearance a Weak Area in Indian Cities?

The urban sector in India is increasingly being recognised as a crucial growth driver for job creation, the GDP, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), and the overall economy in general.

With a major percentage of the population shifting from rural bases to urban areas in recent times, the country’s urban centres are experiencing an exponential growth in the populace,

Despite the fact that there has been a significant amount of investments in infrastructure and public utility services, the basic service levels, however, still resides well below the desired levels due to this explosive growth in the population.

One of the key areas of concern is urban stormwater management.

Rapid urbanization has led to the swallowing of nature’s soft landscape, the natural absorptive for rainwater. When land becomes impenetrable, stormwater stagnates on the surface, thereby causing massive inconvenience to the city residents by affecting major infrastructure like transportation.

Where Does India Stand?

According to an article published on Livemint, the ministry of urban development, in 2010-11, conducted a survey in 13 states to verify different indicators for water and sanitation with a prime focus on stormwater drainage.

The main purpose of this survey was to identify the coverage of stormwater drainage network, where ‘coverage’ was defined by the ministry in terms of percentage only for those drains that are pucca, or permanent construction.

The report that came out of the survey was alarming, with stormwater drainage coverage being below 50 percent in 56 out of 104 cities, and in 745 out of 1383 urban areas that were surveyed — a level that the ministry termed as “immediate action for improvement”.

What Exactly Is the Problem?

Stormwater drainage systems, in urban centres, are mainly aimed at addressing high and abrupt rainfall concentration in a brief period of time.

With growing population, and shifting weather patterns such as erratic rains and uneven rainfall in a single day, the importance of stormwater drainage in urban sectors is increasing like never before.

The weather pattern, due to global warming and other factors, is changing for sure. The same Livemint article cited data from, which stated that the number of days with rainfall above 80 mm in Mumbai has increased by 3.56 percent over a decade, and above 40 mm and 60 mm by 2.78 percent and 3.21 percent respectively.

To make things worse, stormwater drains in urban areas, wherever they exist, often get clogged with sewage and garbage deposits. This aggravates the situation, resulting in an overflow even if the rainfall isn’t abnormal, or for that matter, less-than-normal.

Apart from inadequate infrastructure and public awareness, encroachment is also a major problem in big Indian cities.

So What’s the Way Out?

Service Level Benchmarking (SLB) is now well acknowledged as a critical mechanism for accountability and performance management in service delivery.

Benchmarking basically involves monitoring and measuring the performance of service providers on a continuous and systematic basis.

Sustained benchmarking helps utilities to introduce improvements, and identify performance lapses, through information sharing and implementation of best practices that lead to improved delivery of services.

The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India, realising the significance of Service Level Benchmarking, has launched an initiative, which covers water supply, wastewater, solid waste management (SWM), and stormwater drainage.

The idea has become the keystone of urban reform agenda, being implemented in various parts of the country through centrally sponsored schemes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), and the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT).

Several options, such as expansion and repair of existing surface sewer systems, as well as construction of new underground circular sewer systems are being considered, but ultimately, the final selection of an ideal option will entirely depend on the appropriateness of the method, budgetary factors, aesthetics, and most importantly, the availability of space.

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