A survey of the quality of life in India's cities yields a disappointing picture. By R. SURESH

THE performance of Indian cities across key indicators of quality of life, such as water supply, public transport, parks and open spaces, sewage treatment and solid waste management, does not meet even the basic standards of service. With a growing population and increasing urbanisation, this may lead to greater strain on the environment.

In order to assess people’s perceptions, behaviour, awareness, and opinions about the environment, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) conducted a survey (sample size: 4,039) in six cities on six themes: Overall Environment, Air Quality, Water Quality, Forest/Green Cover, Climate Change, and Waste and Waste Management.

The key findings of the survey are

Air quality over time has either become worse or remained unaltered. The leading causes of air pollution are factories and the transport and construction sectors. Tax on private vehicles is a way to cut down pollution.

Drinking water has improved in all cities barring Hyderabad, where it has worsened. Surface water quality is seen to have worsened in all cities apart from Mumbai (no change). All cities, except Chennai, have seen a worsening of groundwater availability.

While respondents from Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata said that citizens should not pay the actual cost of water, those from Hyderabad and Mumbai felt that citizens should. Quite a large number of respondents from Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad stated that they did not know whether they should pay the actual cost of water.

Tree and forest cover has dwindled in all cities except Mumbai and all cities have seen a decline in the number and species of birds and animals.

Waste management in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad has deteriorated, while Kolkata and Mumbai have seen some improvement.

Awareness on environmental policies in Delhi is low in all domains and Chennai’s respondents lacked awareness about policies relating to air pollution and climate change.

The majority of the respondents from other cities were aware of policies relating to forest conservation and climate change but felt that they were inadequate or not well implemented.

On the environment-versus-development debate, while some felt they should go hand in hand, many others felt environment protection must be given priority.