Guddi Sankhwar stands at the door of her tiny one-room home that serves as bedroom, kitchen, prayer room, dining room, and study for her seven-member family, with a corner cordoned off for a quick bucket bath. A sparkling-clean toilet is located on the terrace upstairs, a curtain screening it off from the neighbor’s similar facilities.
A bright brass tap stands at her front door, a much-prized family acquisition. The tap has saved Sankhwar and her five children endless hours of drudgery in fetching water from the common hand pump some distance away, for it is women’s and children’s work to bring water home for drinking and household chores.
Making their own arrangements for water
The daily scramble for water, and the constant bickering that accompanies it, brought a group of not-too-friendly neighbors together to install a common pump to draw water from underground aquifers, and a tank to store it in. It is the same spirit of “self-help” in which much of urban India functions. Municipal services, replete with systems and personnel that belong to an earlier era, find it difficult to meet the challenges of ever-growing urban populations.
The spirit of self-help applies equally to electricity supply. Without a power connection of her own, Sankhwar has connected her home to a neighbor’s electric meter, with whom she splits the bill, paying 150 rupees ($3) a month for use of a single light bulb, a fan, a secondhand fridge, and a small TV. But when the power supply fails and wealthier neighborhoods beat the summer heat by cranking up their personal generators, the poor have to make do without any electricity at all.
Nonetheless, Sankhwar is one of the lucky ones. Many others in her neighborhood do not have access to water or sewer connections, leaving them to walk down the lane to use the community toilets.
It is a complex web of challenges that city administrations must handle – power, water, sewerage, garbage disposal, roads, transportation – the entire gamut of urban services that require 21st-century solutions for cities to be green and livable.