Budget 2021-22 should provide for sustainable water supply, soaps under PDS

Nirmala Sitharaman should increase allocation for Jal Jeevan Mission substantially

By Trisha Agarwala
Published: Thursday 28 January 2021

The upcoming budget for financial year 2021-2022 is unique not only because it is the first one after a pandemic was announced, but also because it will be India’s first paperless Budget presentation.

The country stands at the threshold of an economic crisis with a significantly lowered gross domestic product (GDP), estimated to be six to seven per cent less than the previous fiscal, brought on by the lockdown. The Budget presents an opportunity to recover from some of the losses in production and income.

And while doing so, it is imperative that the critical sector of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is in focus, especially in the backdrop of a pandemic.

Sustainable water sources

In the last Union Budget, the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation under the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti witnessed a marginal increase of 17 per cent from the allocation of Rs 25,878 crore in 2019-2020. 

Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), the Centre’s flagship programme which aims to provide piped drinking water to all rural households by 2024, was allocated Rs 11,500 crore for the current financial year (through March 31, 2021), an increase of just 15 per cent from the budget allocation for the financial year 2019-20.

Besides providing piped water supply to all households, JJM emphasises on augmenting local water sources and recharging existing ones. It also promotes water harvesting and desalination. The slight increase in the allocation may not be sufficient in implementing the government’s ambitious plans.

It is expected that the Union government increases the budget for JJM substantially in the forthcoming Union budget 2021-22. Further, it is important that investments are made not just towards initial water supply infrastructure which become defunct in a few months or years but to build sustainable services to promote hygiene.

Soaps under PDS

The budgetary allocation for Swachh Bharat Mission [SBM] (Rural) increased 19.8 per cent for 2020-21 than the previous fiscal. However, this does not hold true for SBM (Urban), allocations for which declined from 2,650 crore for 2019-20 to 2,300 crore for 2020-21.

This reduction in allocation does not auger well, especially during a pandemic when more stress is required on promoting sanitation and hygiene. An increase in the SBM (Urban) allocations is needed for comprehensive sanitation to become a reality.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare prescribe regular hand-washing with soap, as it is one of the primary ways of reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Many households, especially those dependent on daily wages, were impacted by the lockdown, and cannot afford to buy essential items like soaps. Therefore, it is proposed that households under public distribution system (PDS) be provided soaps and adequate budgetary allocation be made for this.

WASH in social institutions 

Finally, WASH services (drinking water, hand washing facility and toilets) in schools, anganwadi centres and health centres have not been getting adequate and appropriate attention for a very long time. Since educational, nutritional and health outcomes for children are largely dependent on these institutions, the upcoming Union Budget should cover them.

There should be specific components in the Budget for water facilities in these social sector institutions and separate budget allocation for WASH facilities in programmes such as Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, Integrated Child Development Services and the National Health Mission.

This is the fourth in a series on the Union Budget 2021-2022 in collaboration with the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability 

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