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Academic year: 2023



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I hereby declare that the thesis entitled “A Study of Social Sustainability and Urban Water Supply Systems in Shillong” is the result of research work carried out by me at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, under the supervision of Dr . The dorbar shnongs play a crucial role in water supply in some places in the city.

Figure No.     Description      Page No.
Figure No. Description Page No.



One of the challenges associated with the scale of urban change will be to provide water to urban areas (Srinivasan, Seto, Emerson and Gorelick, 2013), as many urban centers will not be able to expand supply to include demand due to poor management or insufficient coordination between relevant agencies (Vo, 2007). Hence, water is one of the biggest crises faced in Urban India where there is more demand than supply.

Background to the Study

In the northeastern region of India, only 21 percent of households have access to piped water. However, less than 5 percent of the region's existing potential has been tapped for social use to date (Goswami, 2005).

Table 1.1: Drinking Water Sources in Urban India
Table 1.1: Drinking Water Sources in Urban India

Review of Literature

  • Cities, Water and Sustainability
  • Foregrounding Social Sustainability
    • Social Sustainability and Cities
  • Equity
    • Water Equity
  • Water Governance
    • Good Water Governance

There has been limited explicit attention to the concept of social sustainability in the water literature (Hellberg, 2017). Social sustainability often refers to both the improvement of conditions and the quality of the management of the development process (Boström, 2012).

Figure 1.1: Components of Social Sustainability Framework
Figure 1.1: Components of Social Sustainability Framework

Research Gap

This study follows a practical approach and aims to fill the research gap in existing literature on social sustainability in the city. Similar to many Indian cities, there is gross mismanagement of water in the city (Ahluwalia, 2014).

Objectives of the Study

Shillong city is chosen as a site of study because of recurring urban water problems and to improve the understanding of a specific problem and with the "aim to contribute to the solution" (Hedrick, Bickman and Rog, 1993) . My thesis proposes to look at several of these issues in the process of developing an alternative discursive framework for understanding Shillong's water problems and the issue of water more broadly.

Research Questions

Research Methodology

One of the main objectives of the study is to compare data between and within the municipality and the non-municipality localities. A large number of localities were selected to get a broad perspective of the water supply scenario in the city.

Headman/Secretary of the dorbar shnongs of municipality and non-municipality localities

Municipality Localities

Non-Municipality Localities

  • Academics
  • Others
    • Organisation of the Thesis

Research gaps, rationale of the study and objectives and research questions are given in this chapter. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the history, institutions of the dorbar shnongs. This chapter provides a better understanding and reflects the importance of local traditional institutions as they play an important role in water management.

Table 1.8: Localities of Shillong City where the Survey was Conducted
Table 1.8: Localities of Shillong City where the Survey was Conducted

This chapter deals with water governance exercised by the local traditional institutions chiefly the dorbar shnongs. It examines the role of the dorbar shnongs in

This chapter summarizes and collates findings of the study thematically. It also provides the limitations of the study and suggestions for practice and policy and the



This name was given mainly because half of the year—from April-May to September, rain-bearing clouds envelop the land (Son, 2016). In Meghalaya, 86 percent of the population belongs to scheduled tribes, the main tribes being the Khasis, Jaintias and the Garos with their numerous divisions in tribes (Nongkynrih, 2014). All the three major communities of the state trace their descent through the female line.

Introducing the ‘Field’: Shillong

While the literacy rate among males is 66.14 percent, it is only 60.41 percent among females.

Map showing the Location of Meghalaya and its Capital Shillong

East Khasi Hills District

Shillong City

  • Geography and Climate
  • Land and Forest
  • Population
  • Shillong Municipal Area
  • Shillong Urban Agglomeration (SUA)
  • Community
  • Socio-Cultural Belief and Water
  • The State of Water Supply in Shillong
    • Demand and Supply of Water
    • Major Issues at Present

The city began with a few scattered huts in the adjoining villages of Laban, Laitumkhrah, Nongkseh and Lawsohtun.8 The area of ​​Shillong, as it arose in the second half of the nineteenth century, was the habitat of the Khasis who had lived in these hills since ancient times. The city is located along the northern slopes and foothills of the Shillong Peak N latitude and E longitude at an average height of 1496 meters above mean sea level.9 The city is a part of Shillong plateau dissected in nature with well developed valleys along which the streams flow. The Shillong Municipal Council (SMB) and the Department of Public Health and Engineering (PHED) provide the bulk of the water supply services in the city.

Table 2.1: Land Resources of Shillong  Sl.
Table 2.1: Land Resources of Shillong Sl.

Leaked Pipes in Mawprem ‘A means of accessing of water for the poor’!

  • Water Supply and the Traditional Institutions

This can be harmful in the long run and the Umiew yield will be significantly reduced. The amount of water in many rivers has decreased, the main reason being deforestation. Some of the dorbar shnongs that supply water entirely on their own are Wahdienglieng, Lumbatngen, Demthring and Lumdiengsoh.



According to Paragraph 3(g) of the Sixth Schedule, the District Council has been given the power to enact laws on the appointment and succession of chiefs. The principle of legitimacy and authority is strongly intertwined with the institution of the dorbar shnong. This chapter then discusses the traditional system of governance of the Khasis and examines its significance in post-colonial India.

Dorbar Shnong: Meaning and Concept

Dorbar shnong is supported by Khasi residents of a village or locality (Lyngdoh, 2015a). The dorbar shnong seems to be the most important in politics that affects the daily administration and lives of the people (Baruah, 2004). Thus, political parties and party politics could not greatly influence the functioning of the dorbar shnong (Lyngdoh, n.d.).

Table 3.1: Assessment of the Dorbar Shnongs with other Institutions in Meghalaya  Attributes  Traditional
Table 3.1: Assessment of the Dorbar Shnongs with other Institutions in Meghalaya Attributes Traditional

Functions and Responsibilities of the Dorbar Shnongs

The powers and functions of the rangbah shnongs (headmen) combine executive and judiciary powers (Baruah, 2004). The dorbar shnongs quickly become formalized by acting as an arm of the state government. The degree of social cohesion in the village is aimed at the proper functioning of the dorbar shnong (Lyngdoh, 2015b).

The Dorbar Shnong and Women

The arrival of Christianity and Western ideas about the separation of the religious from the secular hindered the religious significance of the institutions (Kharbani, 2016). Women in many places in Shillong attend the dorbar and are also involved in the executive committees of the dorbar shnonga. There are also some women's organizations in different places, such as ka seng kynthei (women's organizations), which send their representatives to the executive committee of the dorbar or local council (Khatso, 2004).

Democracy and the Dorbar Shnongs

In the past, the dorbar shnong exercised male suffrage, but now women also participate (War, 1998). Besides the issue of gender discrimination, there are currently other pressing issues regarding the dorbar shnongs. Some were denied ration cards and other benefits because they protested against some acts of the dorbar shnongs.

The KHADC and the Dorbar Shnongs

It is the function of the district councils to maintain the momentum of tradition (Lyngdoh, 2014). The Sixth Program has relegated the traditional chiefs to a subordinate position, making them agents of the district councils. There is a governance deficit at the institutional level as none of the institutions, namely the state government, the district councils and the traditional institutions (here the dorbar shnongs) are able to realize their full potential in contributing to the management. (Borkotoky, 2014).


Democratic decentralization of local self-governance in Khasi society would be practical and efficient if accomplished through the institution of the dorbar shnong with necessary improvements in its constitution and procedures. More positive democratic elements should be introduced in the constitution and functioning of the dorbar shnong to suit the current needs of the Khasi society as well as for democratic justice (Lyngdoh, 2016a). The attributes of these institutions define the character of their indigeneity of the Khasi Hills.


Measuring Water Equity?

This chapter also looks at the current nature of water supply, quantity and quality, distribution pattern and intra-generational equity in Shillong. Based on the aforementioned inputs or indicators such as – quantity, quality, availability and reliability, this chapter will examine justice in water supply. Regarding the quality of water, user perception is mainly taken as a measure of water quality.

Table 4.1: IRC Water Service Delivery Ladder Framework
Table 4.1: IRC Water Service Delivery Ladder Framework

Sources of Water

A Public Standpipe in Lawsohtun Locality

A Community Spring in Mawlai Mawdatbaki

  • Quantity
    • Levels of Satisfaction with Water Quantity
  • Water Quality
    • Levels of Satisfaction with Water Quality
  • Accessibility
    • Collection Time
    • Water Connection
    • Buying and Cost of Water

In the municipal area, 93 percent of households with on-site piped water receive water every day. The level of satisfaction with water quality, both at municipal and non-municipal level, is shown in Table 4.9. In non-urban areas, access to water is relatively difficult for tap water on sites and public pipes.

Table  4.4:    Duration  of  Water  Supply  for  Piped  Water  on  Premises  in  Some  Selected   Localities
Table 4.4: Duration of Water Supply for Piped Water on Premises in Some Selected Localities

Water Containers Used to Deliver Water by Water Vendors

  • Reliability

In general, water supply services are 'improved' in nature and reliability in municipal areas is high and safe. In the non-municipal area there are related problems, such as the reliability of the water supply. Public standpipes can fail for the same reasons as other causes that disrupt water supplies.

Water pipes running along drains are a common sight in Shillong

  • Other Measures of Equity
    • Gender Equity

It was observed that young adult males are usually the ones who collect water from public standpipes. Among the Khasis, an interesting observation was made that it was mainly the adult males who collected water. In general, it was observed that washing clothes in springs and streams/rivers is done exclusively by women (see Plate 4.5).

Women Washing Clothes in the Locality of Nongrah

  • Social Equity
  • Seasonal and Geographical Variations
  • Water Equity and the Poor
    • Municipal Area
    • Non-Municipal Area
    • Discussion

Water consumption levels are positively correlated with wealth in the non-municipal area and with some pockets of the municipal area. There is a spring relatively far away and none of the family members have time to collect the water. The study draws attention to the fact that the water experience of the poor depends on location.

Stealing’ of Water – Plastic Pipe Connected to an Iron Water Pipe in Nongmynsong Locality

  • Conclusion

This is reported in many parts of the city where there is insufficient water supply. Urban sprawl is aggressive in the city.39 He saw the changes in water supply in many parts of the city. These vulnerabilities arise largely due to structural limitations of the governance system that exists in the city (Evans, 2007).


Municipality Localities

The Umsohsun dorbar shnong suggested that water pipes be moved out of the drains. According to the rangbah shnong of Wahingdoh42, a dorbar shnong has limited authority in a municipal area. Although it is located in the municipal area, the dorbar shnong regulates part of the water supply here.

Water Source of Cleve Colony

  • Water Related Problems in the Municipal Area
  • Roles of Dorbar Shnongs in Municipality Localities
  • Non-Municipality Localities
    • Mawlai Mawdatbaki

The dorbar shnongs of these localities called for better protection and conservation of the catchment areas. Some of the problems and responsibilities faced by the dorbar shnong of the Cleve colony are different compared to the Wahingdoh and Umsohsun areas. Some of the routine problems and roles of municipalities are given in the section below.

A Polluted River in Shillong

  • Nongkhryiem
  • Nongrah
  • Lawsohtun
  • Mawpat
  • Water Related Problems in the Non-Municipal Area
  • Roles and Functions of Dorbar Shnongs in Non-Municipal Localities
  • Discussion
    • Nongkhryiem and Lawsohtun: Exemplary Water Governance
    • Challenges and Opportunities
    • The Dorbar Shnongs and its Criticisms

Dorbar shnong has approached PHED to dam the same river for water supply. Since the government has shown great interest in the expansion of the municipal area, i.e. inclusion of more localities under the municipality - this could mean better water supply to more localities due to more municipal grants. Another reason is that water management depends on how determined and "powerful" the dorbar shnong is.


Figure No.     Description      Page No.
Table No.  Description     Page No.
Table 1.1: Drinking Water Sources in Urban India
Figure 1.1: Components of Social Sustainability Framework


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