The overall context of cities can be captured in a single word: Growth. Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune in the last two decades have grown economically, demographically and geographically. And this growth has been fast and unplanned. The implications of this growth for urban water management in these cities are enormous. The relevant institutions and current policy regimes of water management are still grappling with the rate at which these cities are growing, and its consequent increases both in demand for fresh water and generation of waste water. The phenomenal demographic growth and boom in the real estate sector also means that more and more poor migrant labourers are a part of these cities’ permanent or floating population. And therefore, despite its relative economic prosperity, the issue of access to water & sanitation for the poor is an integral part of the growth challenge.
While the formal mechanisms of managing water are grappling with these challenges, people have evolved coping strategies and urban water, waste-water & sanitation markets have stepped in to fill the gap left by the traditional institutions’ inadequacies. Surface waters in and in close proximity to these cities have become dry or more polluted, and these cities continue to go farther and farther to source its water. The coping strategies and markets have relied heavily on groundwater. While these market mechanisms provide valuable services, are they always ecologically sustainable? At the same time, some citizens and private institutions have demonstrated sustainable practices and paths of self-regulation – perhaps a silver lining, a potential solution in the complex challenge of managing urban waters in growing cities.