Sanitation Changemaker

Bridging Gaps with Inclusive Urban Planning

Depinder Kapur is a renowned Development and WASH expert, currently serving as the Director of Water Program at Centre for Science and Environment. With a diverse background, he has held significant positions at WaterAid, NIUA, CARE, Oxfam, and WSSCC, among others. He has worked to develop national strategies and frameworks for assessing capacity development and resilient urban sanitation response effectiveness.

Before his foray in WSH, he had worked in various fields including watershed development, forestry, and agriculture, among others. Having initially focused on rural issues, he gravitated towards the intriguing nature of urban challenges, which to him remained relatively unexplored and underserved. It presented an additional challenge to him, which he was eager to tackle; thereby making Urban Water and Sanitation all the more enticing to him.

From his initial days of exploring WSH, he was surprised to witness the state of small towns of UP, where drain water actually flew into septic tanks. Similarly, in the floodplains of Bihar, he encountered houses with septic tanks located in the center of the house owing to lack of proper drainage systems outside. These seemingly basic challenges lacked documentation or public discussion. These initial experiences played an important role in instilling in him an appreciation of the importance of adapting solutions to local contexts.

Reflecting upon his journey in sanitation, Depinder recounts that while initially, the sector’s focus was limited to community and public toilets, over time, there was a rise in momentum to address the challenges of urban sanitation. The period between 2015 and 2020, just before the onset of the COVID pandemic, was one of exhilaration in the sector. During this time, there was a flurry of activities taking place in the sector, including implementation efforts, research endeavors, capacity building initiatives, and the establishment of the National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Alliance. It marked an exciting moment in the sector. The NFSSM Alliance has played a role in bringing the agenda of Faecal Sludge and Septage Management to the national level. Depinder strongly believes that being a part of the NFSSM Alliance has exposed him to different approaches and unique experiences across a range of issues. He regards it vital to sustain the work that has been done for FSSM, to scale it up and cull out the right learnings towards the goal of inclusive sanitation.

As part of his work at the Centre for Science and Environment, he strives to center the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable settlements, being of the firm belief that Urban Planning, which is a neglected area, is not just about spatial planning but about addressing gaps and inequities, bringing legislative entitlements to people residing in cities to all services including water and sanitation. The very premise of city sanitation planning is to address those parts of cities which are denied services.