Roundtable- Mainstreaming Water Sensitive Urban Design and Planning- Challenges and Opportunities in Sustainable Development

India has witnessed a rapid increase in urban population (with expected growth rate of 2.54% population per annum) during the past few decades. Today all cities and towns are exerting pressure on water resources leading to increasing water demand and supply gap.Furthermore, this increasing urbanization in India is resulting in a heavy clamor of “built-up area” which includes residential, commercial and retail spaces. The overall constructed / built up area in 2005 was approximately 2 billion sq meters which is projected to increase to an astounding 10 billion sq meters by 2030 (CSE, 2014). 

The increase in built up area prohibits natural groundwater recharge which in turn leads to urban flooding and water-logging in monsoon season.On the other hand, the same urban areas experience groundwater depletion due to over extraction of water resources.Moreover, the boom in increasing unplanned built up area is resulting in encroachment of waterbodies, which is especially prominent in metropolitan cities.

Thus there is need for strategies toward water sensitive urban design and planning by accessing rainwater availability in the area, groundwater recharge possibilities and flood water utilization to meet the local demand. The new developments and planned areas have opportunity to integrate such design of the urban water cycle

Addressing this problem is crucial as more than 50 to 90% of new buildings are expected to come up in resource stressed towns/cities of India (CSE,2014).

Hence, there is a need for an integrated approach towards water management, which includes rainwater, groundwater, surface run-off, drinking water and wastewater that need to be efficiently utilized,  stored, treated and reused in the urban environment to maximize the economic, environmental, recreational and cultural value of water. This can be achieved through water sensitive design and planning (WSDP). However, in India there is no direct/straight regulatory framework which talks about WSUDP as a whole or which showcases the relevant/direct integration of various sectors of sustainable urban water management. 

CSE is a designated Centre of Excellence (CoE) in the area of Sustainable Water Management supported by Ministry of Urban Development under the Capacity Building of Urban Local Bodies (CBULB). The centre is assisting the ministry in policy research, developing practitioner’s toolkits, conducting training programmes / field exposure visits for municipal functionaries, conducting national / regional policy workshops and roundtable meetings on key thematic focus areas aimed at mainstreaming sustainable water management. The centre  organiseda roundtable meeting on “Mainstreaming Water Sensitive Urban Design and Planning - Opportunities and challenges in India” on 4th February, 2016. 

The roundtable meeting engaged with policy makers and practitioners, academics and experts involved in advocacy on sustainable water management in India aimed towards developing state of art policy brief, technical advisory and practitioners toolkits. 

Aim & Objectives of Roundtable

To create a platform for cross-learning concepts and case studies of water sensitive design and planning for implementation in India.


  • Toengage state and non-state actors for technical advisory and feedback on mainstreaming WSDP in India

  • To present international and nationalcase studies of WSDP and  discuss valuable strategies and techniques to implement WSDP on ground

  • To outline the existing challenges and opportunities of WSDP implementation  

Date: 4th February, 2016
Venue: Casuarina Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi

The roundtable involved eminent speakers which deliberated about the challenges and potential opportunities for mainstreaming water sensitive design and planning, especially in urban India. In the initial discussion, Mr. Paritosh Tyagi (Former Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board) mentioned that the concept or the plan for “smart cities” in India is still to be defined.  He further highlighted that in terms of sustainable water management, there is still more focus on water supply than wastewater treatment, which is dampening efforts to progress in this field. According to Mr. P.Z. Thomas (Environmental Engineers & Consultants Pvt. Ltd.) the key issues hindering advancement in this field is the lack of promotional schemes for the community to adopt these practices. He further stressed on the importance of linking  such practices to an economic package to lure the community. The audience raised certain concerns on behavior change and the need for solutions that are attractive to the local area. 

The discussion then moved to the actual challenges that exist in India and other developing countries which have till date stagnated development in this sector. Ms. Valerie Naidoo (Water Research Commission, South Africa) stressed on the issue of importance of operation and maintenance after implementation of such practices. She further elaborated that for water sensitive designs to fully function, it is important not to store poor quality water which can be avoided by regular monitoring. Prof. Arunava Dasgupta (School of Planning and Architecture) expressed his views on the absence of norms or standards in India for water sensitive design and planning. He indicated that there is a need for urban design and urban planning streams to meet in order to create norms for better local area design and planning, which is missing contemporarily. Adding to this, Prof. Dasgupta raised the issue of the shortfall of capacity for designing such sustainable projects at planning and design schools currently. He further pointed out that it is important to train more people in this field in order to adopt the concept of water sensitive practices on a larger scale. Ms. Naidoo henceforth discussed key complexities that are holding urban centres in the developing world back from attaining their goal of becoming water sensitive cities. She further explained that a roadmap to becoming water sensitive will naturally arise once the capacity to provide such practices increases. In continuation with this, Prof. Dasgupta specified the need for an integrated development expert cell at a local scale (ward) which will look at issues such as management and design of natural spaces, which will make the challenge of implementation more tangible. 

Sunita Narain (Centre for Science and Environment) captured the point of tension that exists in India today with regards to this matter. She explained how urban areas in India need to become water wise/sensitive, however cannot follow the trajectory of the developed nations. The crisis that exists in India today, is that approximately 70% of India’s population reside in rural areas which are dependent upon agriculture (largest water consumption sector of the country), whereas a mere 30% of population reside in urban areas (where water demand is increasing exponentially). This 30% population holds the economic power, where governments are now focusing on meeting the water demands of urban centres, creating tension and competition between new and existing users. Ms. Narain concluded by stressing on the need for strategic action at a scale which will bring about change, which could include how the nation could become “water saving” (agriculture) in nature and how urban cities can become water sensitive rather than feeding off as parasites. 


For more information kindly contact:

Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla
Programme Director
Centre for Science and Environment