Would the poor slum dweller contribute financially for water supply and why?

Indranil De

Safe water supply and sanitation have major implications on public health. Slums are dense informal urban settlements which do not have adequate basic amenities like water supply and sanitation. There is an urgent need to improve the delivery of services in these settlements. It is observed that improvement of present conditions requires either improvement of the present system or opting for an alternative institutional structure. In both cases, either government or slum dwellers have to contribute. Our paper investigates the willingness to pay of different ethnic groups and their preference for alternative institutional mechanisms for better water supply in slums of Kolkata, India. The paper looks into perception of ethnic groups on the accountability of municipal councillors. The article takes an institutional view of general discrimination of ethnic groups, discrimination with respect to access to basic services and the response of ethnic groups to make conditions better. The paper is a useful contribution in the pursuit of planning from below which requires understanding of community preferences, willingness to pay and access to accountability mechanisms of different ethnic groups including minorities.

The research was conducted through in depth survey of 541 slum dwellers from 23 slums of Kolkata. The survey was conducted during 2012‐13 by a Kolkata based survey agency. The sampling frame and the survey questions were developed by the authors. The authors also conducted a few interviews of households. Both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies were used for analysis.

The article argues that if the preferences of minorities are not reflected in public policies then minorities would prefer to opt for an alternative institutional system. It explains how discrimination at different layers of governance leads to distrust in the existing institutions and subsequently diverts preference for alternative institutions. It provides a fair idea of economic and living conditions of different ethnic groups in Kolkata. The article explains how local government is accountable for water supply juxtaposed against actual accountability as perceived by slum dwellers. Interviews with the slum dwellers explain their difficulty in accessing the accountability mechanisms and get their problems redressed. The preferences for institutional mechanisms are analyzed from two important dimensions: ethnicity and land tenure. The article establishes that even the poorer community may be willing to pay for water supply if they find the institution more accountable. More autonomy of local governments would enable them to plan according to the needs and preferences of the community and make local governments more accountable.

It would be interesting to further look into the actual spending of households on water and sanitation under different conditions. It is likely to vary according to economic condition, institutional structure, land tenure, social norms, political environment, etc. Cross country study on private investment of slum dwellers on water and sanitation would provide a holistic understanding and would enable us to generalize the conditions under which households are willing to contribute for water and sanitation. It is also important to scan through the existing and potential technologies suitable for water supply and sanitation for communities of different sizes, preferences and economic abilities. These would match preferences, needs and feasible technologies for water and sanitation services for poor communities.


Read more

De, Indranil and Tirthankar Nag (2016). “Local Self‐governance, Ethnic Division in Slums and Preference for Water Supply Institutions in Kolkata, India”, Water Policy, 18 (3)

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