USI: Urban Sustainability Index

Research Team: Sivapradha CR, Kadambari Anantram, Vivek Venkataramani
LEAD Centre: Centre for Development Finance ( CDF)
Focus Area: Environment and Climate Change
Project Geography: Chennai, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Mysore
Partner: CDF internal poject
Status: Completed


Cities will be central to India’s economic future. The country’s urban population grew from 290 million in 2001 to 340 million in 2008, an increase of 17.24% over an eight year period, with this number projected to reach 590 million in 2030 (McKinsey Global Institute). Also, while in 1991, there were 23 million plus cities, this number had increased to 35 in 2001, with the emergence of two ‘mega cities’ – Delhi and Mumbai. This scale of urbanisation has put massive pressures on cities’ natural resources and in the provision of adequate basic infrastructure and services.
In order to sustain the economic productivity of cities and towns, India needs to manage its urbanization, not only in terms of addressing basic service delivery, but also paying equal attention to environmental and energy considerations. Currently, these considerations are either viewed as “add-ons” to overall strategies driven by service delivery concerns or as a subject for conventional environmental infrastructure programming as an important routine task for cities. Given the rising cost of energy, traffic congestion, urban sprawl and related mobility costs, the vulnerability of fresh water sources, and incidences of chronic air pollution, environmental and energy considerations should become part of the core city development planning process. There is an immediate need for a fundamental shift in India’s Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to focus on sustainable urban development.

The Urban Sustainability Index (USI), seeks to measure and assess the performance of Indian cities across a range of criteria. USI is as an equally weighted average of six categories – Air Quality, Built Environment, Sewage & Sanitation, Solid Waste, Roads and Water Quality & Supply. All the underlying indicators used for creating the index have normative benchmarks. Thus USI measures the sustainability performance of cities as percentage of the benchmark. This framework was pilot tested for four cities in two different states of India – Chennai and Kovai from Tamil Nadu, and Bengaluru and Mysore from Karnataka. While Bengaluru and Chennai are Tier I cities, Kovai and Mysore are Tier II cities.

USI scores are the highest for Mysore, followed by Bengaluru. Kovai trails closely and Chennai brings up the rear. Mysore performs uniformly well across all categories. Tier I cities, perform well in certain categories such as ‘Roads’ and ‘Sewage’, while they lag behind in the provision of water services and in curbing pollution of fine particles (SPM and RSPM). One area of concern across the board is with regards to solid waste management (waste generation, primary waste collection & transport to transfer station, segregation and disposal in landfills).