Rajasthan’s economic prospects are set to rise as growth bottlenecks in its cities are cleared and public services improved.

RAJASTHAN, INDIA — For Naina Ram, water is money. When he couldn’t get enough, business would suffer at his small grocery store in Pali, a hardscrabble industrial city in India’s largest and driest state.

He either had to buy water from tankers or wait for hours at community taps. Tanker water was expensive, he recalls, standing outside his corner store at Baba Ramdev residential colony, a new settlement for slum-dwellers.

“It wasn’t good quality, but we had to drink it. We’d get sick. If I went to the tap I had to close my shop for a couple of hours.”

Rajasthan is a desert state, and its harsh, dry climate exacerbates the impact of a lack of basic services in its cities. Many are without piped water connections, toilet and wastewater treatment facilities, roads that don’t flood during the rainy season, and health services to treat a booming population.

The infrastructure deficit makes poverty often more severe in cities than in rural areas, as many urban poor live in unsafe, unhygienic, and cramped slums and informal settlements. Though poverty is falling, an estimated 10.7% of people in Rajasthan’s cities live below the poverty line. Their lives can be precarious; many lack ownership rights to their dwellings and face ejection without warning. Personal safety is a constant concern.

India’s cities have driven the country’s thriving economy, with growth expected to reach 7.3% this fiscal year, according to ADB estimates. But the poor condition of urban infrastructure in Rajasthan causes it to miss out on some of these gains. Moreover, a quarter of the state’s population are city dwellers, and this is rising by nearly 3% a year— putting extra strain on services.

More water, more money

Rajasthan’s economic prospects could hinge on whether bottlenecks to growth in its cities can be cleared, giving people more time and energy to make a living.

“Now I can stay here all day and concentrate on my business.”

Naina Ram

Even a simple metered water connection can make a huge difference. For more than a decade, projects under the Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project (RUIDP), funded by $970 million in loans from ADB, have provided improved water supplies to nearly 9 million people across the state.

Naina Ram got his water connection earlier this year. Now he can spend time with customers instead of wasting it waiting for water. Sales are up by around 300 rupees a day, and he no longer pays for tanker water.

“Now I can stay here all day and concentrate on my business,” he says.

Livable cities drive growth

Safe, clean water, decent roads, and responsive health services are essential building blocks for sustainable and inclusive growth.  The project has helped to deliver them to 27 cities across Rajasthan, from its capital city Jaipur to smaller centers such as Pali in the southwest where until recently 24/7 continuous water supply was a dream, and open defecation the norm.

Innovative approaches to water distribution have been used effectively in Pali. Dividing the urban water network into smaller areas under a district metering approach has made it easier to locate leaks and replace pipes, cutting non-revenue water losses.

“People use the indoor toilets now, they don’t want to go outside.”

Munni Devi

“The 1000 new connections at Baba Ramdev Colony in Pali mean around 5000 people now have continuous water,” says Pushkar Srivastava, a senior project officer (urban) at ADB’s resident mission in New Delhi.

Reliable water connections help communities in other ways as well. Like many local women, Draupadi Bairwa, a mother of two from Sawai Madhopur near Jaipur, once feared going to the toilet. She attended to these needs at night in fields near her house but ran the risk of being harassed and possibly assaulted by drunken men.

The recent installation of her family’s first indoor toilet has changed that. So too for Munni Devi, one of several women praying together at the side of a nearby road.

“We used to hold on until it got dark and had to go very far,” says Devi. “People use the indoor toilets now, they don’t want to go outside.”

Roads to wealth and health

Churu is a dry city, but at times was too wet in the most inconvenient places. Low-lying areas would flood so badly that cars would have to be towed out.

That wasn’t good for Abdul Sattar Saulanki’s business selling bricks, marble and gravel for construction near Pankha Circle, one of Churu’s main road junctions, which used to flood regularly. “I lost around 15,000 to 20,000 rupees a month,” he says. “I couldn’t get my stone out the door.”

Under the project, roads running to the roundabout were raised for a kilometer in all directions. The roundabout itself was lifted by 90cms, and drainage installed. Saulanki’s revenue increased by 50% after work finished in early 2017.

Incomes are rising too at Barmer on Rajasthan’s western border, where oil and gas finds are driving the local economy. Water isn’t a problem. But traffic congestion is worsening as the population rises. The main road was once jammed five times a day when trains from Jaisalmer passed through the city center.

“I used to waste 3 or 4 hours a day sitting in my car,” says Sunil Bishnoi, a junior engineer at the RUIDP office in Barmer. “One train came around the time my office opened, so anyone taking this route was always late for work.” A few years ago, a flyover was built under the project. “Now there’s no traffic and no waiting time.”

“Soft” reforms support hard infrastructure

The project is helping to put Rajasthan’s cities on a pathway to sustained growth and raising living standards.

More than 3 million people now benefit from improved drainage, and a similar number from better roads. Incomes among some slum families are up as much as 95%, and property values are climbing as services improve. Water-borne disease is declining due to better drainage; a major hospital in Pali built under the project caters for 10,000 patients a day. Flyovers like the one in Barmer are connecting cities and boosting trade.

“Rajasthan is a progressive state and is ready to transform its cities. This could be a model for other cities across India.”

Manoj Sharma

But just as important are the less obvious changes, like the establishment of the state’s first corporate entity in charge of urban development. There will also be a state institution overseeing the training of functionaries and public representatives in the urban sector. A water sector reform plan will target reductions in non-revenue water, 24/7 supply, and providing connections for slum residents.

“Rajasthan is a progressive state and it is ready to transform its cities,” says Manoj Sharma, chief of the Urban Sector Group at ADB.

“This could be a model for other cities across India, helping to lift the quality of people’s lives and boost local economies. We are proud to be a partner in this effort.”

At Abdul Sattar Saulanki’s shop, toilets are the big-seller. He credits this to the Government of India’s “Clean India” campaign, and to better access to sanitation. In a sign of rising public expectations, one of last year’s most popular movies, “Toilet: A Love Story”, is about a woman who leaves her new husband because his house doesn’t have a toilet.

Attitudes are changing as incomes rise and services improve. “Before people bought cheap stone but now they’re buying expensive marble,” says Saulanki. “Even from small rural villages they come to buy from me.”

John Larkin is a Senior External Relations Specialist in ADB’s Department of Communications. Learn more about ADB’s work in India.