Surat gets it right on water

It has emerged as a model of response, resilience and sustainability in the face of a challenging jal pareeksha

Surat, the city of diamonds, textiles, and zari was earlier known as Suryapur. Located about 250 km north of Mumbai on the left bank of River Tapi, it is the second largest city in Gujarat and eighth largest in India. Surat has a habitable area of over 200 sq km as of 2013 (the city limit got extended in the year 2006 from 112.3 sq km to 324.6 sq km but not all of the additional area is habitable so far). With GDP growth of over 11 per cent per annum in the last 10 years, it is one of the fastest growing cities of India.

Rapid growth of cities is usually expected to generate urban sprawl and deterioration in public service delivery. Not so in Surat as was earler reported in this column, 'Surat: building a city that cares' (Indian Express, September 29, 2010), and it remains as true today. Surat has not only managed growth with advance planning but has also emerged as a model of response, resilience and sustainability in the face of a challenging jal pareeksha (testing by water) with the floods of 1994. The incredible story of Surat's transformation from the city of plague in 1994 to one of the three cleanest cities of India has been told by many.

When I visited Surat last Friday, almost 20 years after the deluge, it was clear to me that the lessons learnt from the experience of 1994 and then again of 2006 have not been forgotten. The leadership of S.R. Rao, then commissioner, Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) and now commerce secretary, government of India, in bringing about the major turnaround is still remembered by one and all in Surat with affection and reverence. The institutional legacy that he left at SMC and the motivation that he generated in the "Suratis" has sustained the process of change that he initiated. The challenging task of SMC has been made a little lighter by the enthusiastic support and cooperation of the public, the elite, the NGOs and the political class.

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