In peri-urban Delhi, experiments with decentralized sanitation

Mukta Naik, Delhi Community Manager
Delhi, 14 January 2016

Ayanagar sits at Delhi’s southern edge, past the farmhouses of the rich and famous and overlooking the lush green Aravalli range. An urban village that has exploded in size through the illegal plotting of agricultural and forest land, Ayanagar is a teeming and dense settlement of over 100,000 people, comprising local villagers and poor migrants from all over rural India. Affordable and well-located but sadly deficient in infrastructure, Ayanagar typifies the nature of Delhi’s peri-urban sprawl.

Dilapidated Ayanagar is now the subject of keen interest for the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD). It is one of six sites where decentralized sewage treatment is being tried by the government through the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) for the first time. The provisioning of basic services like water and sewerage through trunk pipeline infrastructure to unauthorized plotted settlements in peri-urban locations has been a huge challenge to the DJB. While tankers have been an interim solution for water supply, sewerage has been a total disaster across Delhi’s informal settlements. Open sewers are the norm and homeowners have adopted septic tanks, which require regular cleaning, on a mass scale. The government is all too aware of the grave repercussions of poorly constructed septic tanks on groundwater quality and health.

When the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in early 2015, addressing issues related to service provisioning in Delhi’s informal settlements, where over 60% of the city’s population and most of AAP’s vote bank lives, was a clear priority. The search for appropriate solutions, particularly for decentralized sanitation, began in earnest. A technical solution presented itself in the form of the Bio-Digestor , evolved and patented by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO); however, the government was hesitant to move forward without implementing partners with robust community links.

Ayanagar’s choice as a pilot site stems from its rich experience with community self-organization over the last 15 years, from being declared a "model village" by former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in 1999 to residents registering a wholly democratic organization, the Aya Nagar Vikas Samiti, to make development plans in 2001. By 2008, with the help of NGO Greha , which was located within the settlement, residents co-created a plan for sustainable urban renewal. The scheme included a detailed topographical survey and technical plans for decentralized sanitation in the settlement. Says architect and Greha co-founder MN Ashish Ganju, "Despite being illegal, ordinary people in Ayanagar built the city by joining together, liaising with government authorities and elected representatives, and persuading local authorities to upgrade urban infrastructure. Without infrastructure, especially sewage, this is not a city fit to live in."

When MLA Kartar Singh Tanwar, Ayanagar’s elected representative to the State Legislative Assembly brought this rich history to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s notice, Ayanagar became a priority area to pilot decentralized sewage solutions. Greha, which has a long association with the community, has been the natural choice to take this forward.

Housing and slum upgrading as well as water and sanitation in urban areas are clear priority themes for Habitat III. Further, India’s fulfilment of SDG6 and SDG11 related to water and sanitation and inclusive, safe, and resilient cities is imperative for global success, given the widespread problem of open defecation and urban sanitation failure in the country. The experience of Ayanagar, which demonstrates the equal importance of four elements – community self-organization and persistent local initiative, professional expertise, political will and sound government policy – certainly shows the way forward. Close.

Photo: Greha

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