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Delhi-Mumbai Corridor

Coming out of a key recommendation of the McKinsey Global Institute report on India's urbanisation in the coming decades, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project envisages the establishment of several new cities, industrial nodes, ports, airports and high-speed rail and road lines over six states. However, as is typical of such research and policy vision documents that have been farmed out to international corporate consultants, the project analysis relies on several arguable assumptions about resource availability, especially of water in a severely water-defi cit region.


Delhi-Mumbai Corridor

A Water Disaster in the Making?

Romi Khosla, Vikram Soni

has found it convenient to farm out research and policy projects to project managers or global policy institutions. In this article, we will review the “fate foretold” in the research publications of some of these institutions and analyse the consequences of the proposed urbani-

Coming out of a key recommendation of the McKinsey Global Institute report on India’s urbanisation in the coming decades, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project envisages the establishment of several new cities, industrial nodes, ports, airports and high-speed rail and road lines over six states. However, as is typical of such research and policy vision documents that have been farmed out to international corporate consultants, the project analysis relies on several arguable assumptions about resource availability, especially of water in a severely water-defi cit region.

Romi Khosla ( is an architect and national consultant on urban planning issues. Vikram Soni ( is at the Centre of Theoretical Physics at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

Economic & Political Weekly

March 10, 2012

he union cabinet has moved a note to divert $90 billion for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project, according to an August 2011 report in The Hindu.1 The project will be implemented in collaboration with Japanese investment. Conceived some fi ve years ago, the project has been endorsed by the McKinsey Global Institute in their report “India’s Urban Awakening”, which has recommended the construction of 19 such industrial corridors in order to fast-track India’s urbanisation. One of these 19 corridors, the DMIC, the subject of another report by the infrastructure consultant Scott Wilson India, envisages the establishment of several new cities, 24 industrial nodes, three ports, six airports and a 1,500 km high-speed rail and road line. The project footprint stretches across six states. The population in the region is expected to grow from 231 million in 2009 to 320 million in 2019 and 524 million in 2039 (Scott Wilson India 2009).

This is first of the mega-projects that McKinsey has predicted India will need in the coming decades. For the fi rst time in history, consolidated global census data shows that a majority of people around the world now live in cities. If the trend continues, by 2050, some 55% of the entire Indian population could be urban dwellers (United Nations 2009). Urban research institutions, corporate entities and governments have r eceived this as “fate foretold”. For governments facing the immediate pressures of this urban onslaught, it is clearly a nightmare. For the corporate sector, on the other hand, this is exciting news since it promises vast new opportunities for investments and returns and they have provided us with the answers to our impending urbanisation disasters in two reports – from McKinsey and Scott Wilson.

Urban Research and Its Problems

In India, due to the complexity of the current political situation, the government

vol xlviI no 10

sation policies of the government. The emphasis is on the role of the private sector and could possibly lead to damage to the environment, if the approach is not transparently managed and discussed in the public realm. Some of these proposals, after all, are going to decide the political, economic and social fate of India in the coming century.

In order to fi nd out just how hopeless the situation is in our metropolitan c ities, we can conveniently turn to the findings of the McKinsey Global Institute, an arm of McKinsey and Company, a global management firm. The report’s database is derived from 2,000 metropolitan areas. This exhaustive report has become something of a bible for government policymakers and is leading to some highly questionable planning proposals, as we show later.

Using 2001 Census data, the McKinsey report proposes that the urban population of India will rise from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million in 2030. The report proposes that while urban India contributed to 58% of GDP in 2008, this fi gure should rise to 70% by 2030. In order to evaluate the quality of life of urban India, the report considers six key indicators – water supply, sewage treated, solid waste collected, slum population, private and public transport and parks and open spaces. It concludes that India needs $1.2 trillion of additional capital investment by 2030. We do not, in this article, question the outdated criteria for the sole selection of indicators for GDP, prosperity and the quality of life. Instead, by remaining within the parameters set by the report, we can o bserve the consequences of these projections on government policies.

Two of the 34 McKinsey recommendations concern us here (2010: 35):

• Facilitate 20 to 25 new cities near the largest 20 metropolitan areas by providing adequate infrastructure such as water, electricity and transportation links.


• Seed future urbanisation by building 19 transportation corridors linking Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.

It is our contention that of the six indicators selected by the report to evaluate quality of life, it is water supply that is most crucial since it is a natural resource whose supply cannot be increased by technology, except at enormous cost. The entire available supply of water in the DMIC region is already being shared between farmers who use 83%, industry that uses 10% and cities that use the balance (Vyas 2003).

For the purposes of our analysis, we have chosen the DMIC as the testing ground for the conclusions of the McKinsey Global Institute report. The DMIC is a direct outcome of the second recommen-

All the rivers in the DMIC region already have multiple barrages and dams to divert their flow. Clearly there is no possibility of building more dams without seriously disturbing the ecological flow. The Chambal, for instance, already has four dams that divert almost half the river flow. The international norm for ideal utilisation laid down by the International Centre for Water Technology (ICWT) is 25%. Even accepting the higher utilisation of 50% of total flow, we fi nd the region is already water defi cit.

national water monitoring research institutes such as the Central Water Commission. The justifications for these enormous projects in the future may be coming through a subterfuge of language, suggesting the utilisable flow is available flow. It is highly questionable to how such multimillion urbanisation and industrial projects are being proposed on the basis of interpretation of unreliable data.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI), to which India is a donor, has categorised India as a “water

Table 1: Water Resource Potential of Rivers Passing through DMIC Region (Water Volume in Billion Cubic Metres (BCM))

River Basin Total Flow Minimum Flow 50% Already Utilised Balance Available
for Utilisation
Yamuna (till Etawah) 13 6.5 9 - 2.5
Chambal (till Etawah) 31.4* 15.7 15** +0.7
Mahi 11 5.5 5 +0.5

dation above. Both recommendations Sabarmati 3.8 1.9 1.4 +0.5

seem implausible, and yet their untena- Narmada 45.6 22.8 23.6 -0.8
ble conclusions are likely to guide gov- Tapi 14.9 7.5 10.3 -2.75
ernment policies and investments in the next decade. Seasonal west flowing rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni 15 7.5 6 +1.5
Total 134.7 67.4 70.3 - 2.85
Data from the Central Water Commission archives.
The Delhi-Mumbai * From P K Jha, V Subramanian and R Sitasawad (1988). ** Based on only storage capacities of the dams Gandhi Sagar, Rana
Industrial Corridor Pratap Sagar, Jawahar Sagar and Kota Barrage. Does not include the 150 small-scale irrigation projects on the Chambal.
The most critical resource for industrial Table 1 shows that there is no water stress zone” (Figure 1, p 17). In addition,
or urban development is the availability left for diversion in the rivers that fall in the IWMI has indicated that 33% of In
of water. The two sources for inland the region of the DMIC. This should be an dia’s rivers are severely or moderately
w ater are rivers and underground aqui overriding concern for any large-scale polluted across their entire lengths, that
fers. The ambitious urbanisation and project. The Scott Wilson report implies 69 districts in 14 of our states have high
industrialisation project of the DMIC that further diversion of these rivers is fluoride levels in the groundwater, and
being planned for the future will have to necessary as the area faces a groundthat 40 districts in 13 of our states have
extract two-thirds of the total water need water deficit. This would result in irhigh heavy metal pollution levels in
from rivers and the rest from severely reversible damage to these rivers leadthe groundwater.
stressed groundwater aquifers, which ing finally to their demise. Unfortunately,
are already polluted and overexploited. this is the likely scenario in most of the IWMI Data
The Scott Wilson DMIC report has a country, except for the water-surplus The authors of the Scott Wilson DMIC
listing of total flows and extractable uti north-eastern states and the ghats. r eport have further assumed that east
lisable flows in each state in the DMIC re- If we consider the data in the DMIC flowing rivers outside of the DMIC region
gion. In order to evaluate the real situa report in further detail and look at also provide water for the DMIC. They
tion of water availability, we shall use Haryana, for example, we discover that suggest that if and when an engineering
the criterion used in the Scott Wilson out of the total flow of 5.88 BCM in the solution becomes available, the water of
DMIC document – an ecological fl ow im- Yamuna, 4.05 BCM in the Beas, 4.94 BCM these east-flowing rivers be transferred
perative of allowing 50% of the river in the Ravi and Sutlej, the fl ow available large distances by lifting waters over
w ater to remain in the river to enable it for diversion (50%) is already totally heights of 600 metres across the Western
to live and clean itself. utilised. There is no water available for Ghats. The less said about this proposal
The data implies that the DMIC can further diversion. In reality, the condithe better.
share and extract water from this 50% tions of these rivers is not unlike that of The water of Godavari and Krishna
utilisable flow. Unfortunately this is not the Yamuna where the quantum of water Rivers that flow east is shared between
the case, since all the “utilisable fl ow” in being diverted is closer to 70% and hence Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where
the rivers of the region is already fully already much above permissible limits. there is intense interstate confl ict over
utilised by current users. Developing the There is thus a danger that the data river water sharing and where agriculture
DMIC will overdraw the water and im being used in the DMIC report does not demands have already prompted farmer
pact the health of the rivers. coincide with the data from established suicides. It is unlikely that these states
16 March 10, 2012 vol xlviI no 10 Economic & Political Weekly


Figure 1: By 2000, Water Scarcity Had Spread to Many Large and Densely Populated Countries in Asia

Extreme Scarcity Stress Adequate Abundent Surplus No Data scarcity 500-1,000 1,000-1,700-4,000->10,000 <500 1,700 4,000 10,000

‘000 liters/person/year

Source: Reproduced from IWMI Water Policy Briefing Volume 15 on Environment Flows.

will surrender any of their precious balance through self-sufficiency in a gloriver waters to the DMIC as the DMIC bal environment which is struggling to document assumes. fight climate change. The implementa

tion of these projects in the form Precautionary Principle planned in these reports will destroy It is therefore apparent that before this precious natural environmental resources, enormous investment of billions of dol-while at the same time snatching what lars is made across the terrain of the remains from existing users by impover-DMIC, a proper evaluation of the avail-ishing villages and farms. The resource ability of water should be completed. use, data and assumptions outlined in G oing by announcements in the fi nan-the DMIC report need careful scientifi c cial press, it would seem that investment scrutiny and public awareness which in the project is awaiting government can only be done if an independent willingness to undertake the necessary w ater commission is established for the infrastructural investment. Private inves-regions of the DMIC across the six states. tors contend that the government should No aspect of this mega project should invest in power, roads, water, land acqui-proceed without the authorisation of sition, etc, since these give no direct this commission and without all due r eturns but facilitate other investment. unified environmental clearances. In the

Of all the infrastructure requirements, absence of such a unified authority, each water and land are the most critical state could randomly clear proposals. because they are finite resources. The It is not too late to learn from the DMIC project cannot proceed without C hinese experience, where a chronic usurping the water that the farmers drought is destroying farmland in North need for growing precious food and China as the Gobi Desert expands having an adverse impact on villages in southwards (Wong 2011): the area. Such land and river acquisition

The Yellow River, the so-called birth place

will only create confl ict.

of Chinese civilisation, is so polluted it can

It is our contention that the urbanisa-no longer supply drinking water. The rapid tion process being planned in the wake growth of mega-cities – 22 million in Beijing of the McKinsey and Scott Wilson re-and 12 million in Tianjin alone – has drained

underground aquifers that took thousands

ports for the next decade, indeed for the

of years to fi ll.

rest of this century, is based on mistaken assumptions. The enormous footprint Environmentally sustainable cities in and mega presence of new projects does the future should adopt a different model not address the critical factor of ecolo gical from the one championed by the DMIC.

The metropolises of today cannot be sustained without preying on the natural resources of the surrounding region, and impoverishing these neighbourhoods. The cities of the future need to be radically different: signifi cantly reduced in size and ecological footprint and increased in absolute numbers so as to become self-sufficient units. As decentralised democratically governed cities of the future, such “natural cities” could secure prosperity for the economic, social and political fabric of India.2


1 See for example, Mehdudia (2011).

2 Preliminary blueprints for such natural cities, with populations ranging up to one million were presented by the authors at the Future World Council (Telegraph Special Correspondent 2011). These cities would be relatively self-suffi cient in their requirements of water, power and food.


Jha, P K, V Subramanian and R Sitasawad (1988): “Chemical and Mass Transfer in the Yamuna River – A Tributary of the Ganges System”, Journal of Hydrology, 104: 237-46.

McKinsey Global Institute (2010): “India’s Global Awakening – Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth”, McKinsey & Company, India.

Mehdudia, Sujoy (2011): “Cabinet Note Moved on $90 Billion DMIC Project”, The Hindu, 21 August, accessed on 13 February 2012: http://www.

Scott Wilson India (2009): “Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Final Report”, Volume 1, Scott Wilson India, New Delhi.

Special Correspondent (2011): “Inspiration for Future Cities in Past Civilisations”, T elegraph, 5 April, accessed on 8 February 2012: http://

United Nations (2009): World Urbanisation Prospects: 2009 Revision, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York.

Vyas, V S (2003): India’s Agrarian Structure, Economic Policies and Sustainable Development (New Delhi: Academic Foundation Publishers).

Wong, Edward (2011): “Plan for China’s Water C risis Spurs Concern”, New York Times, 1 June.

EPW Index An author-title index for EPW has been prepared for the years from 1968 to 2010. The PDFs of the Index have been uploaded, year-wise, on the EPW web site. Visitors can download the Index for all the years from the site. (The Index for a few years is yet to be prepared and will be uploaded when ready.) EPW would like to acknowledge the help of the staff of the library of the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai, in preparing the index under a project supported by the RD Tata Trust.

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