Last Friday when Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi chaired the customary post-parliament session press conference, sandwich, dhokla and vadas were served to all participants.
What went missing, on that hot summer day, were bottles of drinking water.
In a push to the Centre’s Swachh Bharat campaign, the drinking water ministry has asked all central ministries and departments to avoid “use of bottled drinking water in official meetings, seminars, conferences, workshops etc. including those conducted by sub-ordinate and attached offices/PSUs.”
The ministry has also asked for “alternative arrangements for safe drinking water that does not result in generation of plastic waste.”
The circular has evoked mixed response.
A senior official in the parliamentary affairs ministry termed it as a good move because “it would also save water and send a message of solidarity when large parts of the country are reeling under severe water shortage.”
“According to our estimate, around 30% of bottled water is wasted or remains unused,” said the official.
But other officials have dubbed the circular as a “token measure to give the Swachh Bharat campaign a fillip.”
“How does stopping usage of bottles of water in 80-odd ministries of the government of India help the ambitious project of Swachh Bharat, which is failing on many grounds?” said a joint secretary-level officer in a social sector ministry.
Ironically, in the past two months, many ministries have floated tenders for supply of bottled drinking water.
Eighteen months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat scheme, states have used barely a third of the central funds, suggesting the campaign was a non-starter.
The states were required to draw 40% of Rs 14,623 crore from the Centre by March 31. But so far, states have only sought Rs 2,109 crore — less than half the targeted amount of disbursal.