Women dedicate long hours in collecting water from nearby hand pumps for various purposes. Credit: Vikas Choudhary / CSE
By 2017, 50 per cent of all rural households (89.6 million out of 179 million) should have got piped water supply and 35 per cent of rural households should have been connected to household taps. We are just two months away for 2017 to end, and till date, only 30 million households (16.77 per cent) have piped water supply connections. It leaves the government with a target of connecting remaining 59.5 million households with piped water supply. This means, 990,000 households should be connected with piped water supply in a day. That target looks absurd.
Even the 2022 target of providing 90 per cent of rural households with piped water supply looks far from achievable. To meet that goal, the government needs to connect around 79,000 households to piped water supply every day.
What explains this dismal performance?
There seems to be lack of interest in rural water supply by both state and the Centre. Duplication of data and false progress is evident in the reporting of Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS). The ministry data shows that there were more than 60,000 rural water projects in 2016-17 and also shows that expenditure has been incurred. However, there has been no physical progress.
Karnataka, one of the worst drought-hit states in 2014-15 and 2015-16, shows a maximum number of such projects—around 16,417. Apart from this, the MDWS data shows that there has been duplication of data for 439 habitations. This poses a question on the actual achievement of the target both on coverage of rural water supply and areas affected by poor water quality. The question now arises: why is this lack of interest?
A series of programmes for providing drinking water to rural areas has been launched since 1969.
The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) was launched in 2009, replacing Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP) of 1972-73, where the key principles of potability, reliability, sustainability, convenience, equity and priority to consumers’ preference were adopted. Under NRDWP, a criterion for allocation of funds to the states was introduced, which had given utmost priority to rural population and incentivised the community management of water schemes by allocating 10 per cent weightage to such initiatives (See table: More for local).
More for local Criteria for allocation of funds to the states by the India government incentivise devolution of power to Panchayats
Rural SC and ST population
States under DDP, DPAP, HADP and special category hill states in terms of rural areas
Rural population managing rural drinking water supply schemes
NRDWP, launched in 2009 and revised in 2016, ensured ‘water safety plan’ that mandates both identification of water quality problem and also safety solution through Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) constituted by the villagers. NRDWP has made provisions for monitoring quality at both treatment plant and consumption level. Focus is more on treating water at household level to bring down burden of water-borne diseases substantially.
Rakesh Kumar, 40, head of Chak Malik Bhiti gram panchayat of Dalmau block, Raebareli is discontent with the fact that the Reverse Osmosis (RO) Plant was set up in the village without involving the village community. The plant was set up by the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN), which has a capacity to treat 5,000 litres per day, three years ago. This is not enough to cater to this village of 80 households, explains Rakesh.
Groundwater is the only source of water and it is contaminated with Flouride. The water is extracted through hand pump by UPJN. Kumar explains that these hand pumps are India Mark II hand pumps and installed by the Jal Nigam. Flourosis is a common disease here due to high fluoride content of the groundwater. The village needs supply of clean drinking water immediately, demand the villagers.
“Nobody is in charge of operation and maintenance of the RO system. The system is of no use to us. The department should have communicated with us before setting up the plant. They came and installed it without the understanding of the use and source of the water,” they say.
There is no one to monitor the usage of the RO system, so the villagers use the filtered water for drinking, washing and bathing. Virender Sankar Mishra, a retired teacher of a secondary school in Jagdishpur village, Deeh block, Raebareli, explains that he has heard about ‘water safety plan’ that mandates both identification of water quality problem and also safety solution through Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) constituted by the villagers but no such exercise happened in this village. “No initiative has been taken by the village head or the Jal Kal Vibhag for providing us with piped water supply. Last mile coverage for water is lacking in this village. A main pipeline up to pucca (metalled) road was laid way back in 2015, but no progress has been made till date to provide water supply to our houses,” adds Mishra.
Women dedicate long hours in collecting water from nearby hand pumps for various purposes. Surprisingly, the data from Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) show that the entire district of Raebareli has been covered by the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) scheme—unique example of implementation of a programme without taking care of the principle points of the guidelines.
The VWSC not in focus in NRDWP: VWSC is a community organisation elected by the Gram Sabha and is a standing committee of the panchayat. At least one-third of the members of the VWSC will be women.
VWSC’s key work is to create action plan for ensuring drinking water security at the village, looking at available government programmes for funding and then creating a shelf of work, to meet drinking water needs, besides the overall maintenance and operation.
Things were not in place, and by 2012-13, only over 34,000 VWSC were formed in 500,000 villages (see table 1).
The 2016-17 data from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation says out of over 600,000 villages in India, only 18,429 have a VWSC, a rate of just three per cent.
The report of a working group of the 12th Five Year Plan 2012-2017 (on rural water sector) recommends drafting of a water security plan by VWSC for villages facing water scarcity and poor water quality. The report suggests use of rain gauges and water monitoring stations for water-stressed areas.
Data available with MDWS shows that of the states that were affected by drought in 2014-15 and 2015-16, very few of them actually showed interest in forming VWSC and training their members. Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat show some initiative in this regard.
Community participation, source sustainability and revival of traditional systems are ideas Public Health Engineering Departments (PHEDs) or water utilities don’t seem convinced about. “Community participation has become a popular phrase, but we do not need such water security plans,” says Trilok Kumar, executive engineer, UPJN, Raebareli. “We have installed hand pumps in villages which are located very close to Ganga. It is difficult to mobilise huge number of villages under them,” say the department officials. Recharge of groundwater is also not a concern for them despite the fact that they are their only source of drinking water.
Lack of monitoring of the implemented water supply system and absence of plan for groundwater recharge show how years of effort to achieve 95 per cent drinking water coverage by 2006 went down the drain.
Access to drinking water in rural India is uncertain and subject to ups and downs. In 2007, the clean drinking water coverage slipped back to the mid-1990s level of 77 per cent. In April 2010, the then Rural Development Minister CP Joshi put it at 84 per cent and declared that India had met the Millennium Development Goal on drinking water coverage.
A 2016-17 evaluation of the rural drinking water programmes (presented to Lok Sabha in August 2016) showed that on an average about 140,000 habitations per year have slipped back during the last seven years or so. The Ministry had attributed reasons for this slippage to over dependence of rural water supply schemes on groundwater, indiscriminate extraction of groundwater for irrigation, uncontrolled pollution of surface water, erratic pattern of rainfall, natural calamities and erratic/lack of power.
The evaluation report of 2016-17 says the source security of drinking water can be achieved on a 100 per cent basis only when our entire rural drinking water supply is based on water grids with water intake from perennial surface water sources is ensured throughout the year. The report adds that presently about 85 per cent of current rural water supply schemes are based on groundwater sources, and as recharge of groundwater is primarily through adequate rainfall, the slippages of habitations to partially covered status would continue and cannot be eliminated altogether.
The report also suggests that there should be implementation of water harvesting structures for the sustainability of groundwater and surface water to avoid slippage. It is seen that the expenditure on such structures under NRDWP has reduced across years. The expenditure in 2009-10 (when NRDWP was launched) was almost five times than what had been done in 2016-17.
The report also stressed on the operations and maintenance (O&M) and suggested increase of NRDWP fund in O&M to be increased from 10 to 15 per cent. Financial progress report in 21016-17 shows that the least amount is spent on the sustainability of NRDWP projects.
Meena Devi, 43, from Ghorha village, Bhetua block in Amethi, spends three hours every day to collect water for her family of seven. “Women are closely associated with water but we are never invited to any meeting on water-related scarcity in the panchayat,” says Meena. She has heard that women groups in the habitation give certificate about satisfactory completion of the water projects implemented in the villages. But till date, she has seen that women are busy fetching water from far away distances for their family.
When asked about the non-implementation of the guidelines, Joint Secretary (Water) of MDWS, Satyabrata Sahu, said that only the state can comment on such gaps. Rajesh Kumar, director of Water at MDWS, says that there are combinations of several factors: communities at places do not prioritise livelihood and as a result do not have time for such engagement, at places they are not skilled enough to develop such plans. “States may not be pro-active in certain areas to focus on community mobilisation,” adds Kumar. Zilla Vikas Adhikari (District Development Officer), Raebareli, Rajendra Narayan Singh says that VWSC has been formed in every village of Raebareli, but the communities do not take active part in this. The water security plan is neither created nor implemented. That is why Jal Nigam has gone to places to implement hand pumps on their own.
Not only the sustainability of the source is neglected, the water quality issues are also not addressed.
According to a report published by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) in 2016, which studied cases on policies and budgets in rural water sector, water quality has not been adequately addressed in NRDWP. Furthermore, whatever little focus is there, it is on fluoride and arsenic. Iron contamination, as found in Chhattisgarh, is not considered a water quality issue. The report suggested that other water quality contaminants need to be factored into the guidelines of NRDWP with dedicated funding. The report studied Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. The Planning Commission had been replaced by the NITI Aayog in 2015.
The trend of central release for the rural drinking water puts a question mark on Centre’s interest in this sector. The opposition debated a lot on this and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation data shows that the central release to the states were pretty low. If the drought years 2014-15 and 2015-16 are compared, it is seen that the release in 2015-16 was almost half the previous year. On the other hand, the expenditure by the states reached its peak during these years.
Lack of interest by the states in the rural water sector was also visible in 2016 when NITI Aayog released Rs 800 crore to the states. Very few states had reported their progress on this. The money was released for the last-mile connectivity and development of the areas affected by arsenic and fluoride.
It is really a time to think whether the country will reach the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of “Har Ghar Jal” by 2030 without involving the communities.
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