Jal Jeevan Mission’s progress in 117 poorest districts outpaces national average
There has been a four-fold increase in the rate at which functional piped water is being provided to households in India’s 117 so-called aspirational districts, home to some of the poorest Indians -- overtaking the pace at which piped water is bring provided nationally under the marquee Jal Jeevan Mission, official figures show.
Nearly 8.4 million households now have assured piped water supply in these 117 districts, an increase from 7% to 31% in 22 months since the Jal Jeevan Mission was launched in 2019, the data shows.
Latest official figures show 31% households in these districts have assured tap water supply. The coverage in these districts since the launch of the programme saw a 24% jump, a rate higher than the 22.7% increase in tap water connections provided countrywide under the scheme.
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission-Har Ghar Jal scheme, every rural household is to be provided with a functional tap water connection by 2024.
Over 120 million households in India lack access to clean water near their homes, the highest in the world, according to a UN Water report of 2014.
India has 189 million rural households, according to Census data. As on June 30, nearly 76.3 million households had a functioning tapped water supply source. This is 40.27% of the total rural households.
In 2018, just 18.2% of rural households had piped water supply. By 2019, this figure increased by nine percentage points.
The country has had several public programmes to bring clean water to rural residences, such as the National Drinking Water Mission launched in 1986, but the goal of providing piped drinking water to every household entered a ‘mission mode’ with the Har Ghar Jal programme (water for every home) under the Jal Jeevan Mission.
Poor-quality water causes diseases such as diarrhoea, the third leading cause of childhood mortality in India, according to researchers Subitha Lakshminarayanan and Ramakrishnan Jayalakshmy, who work at Puducherry’s Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research and Indira Gandhi Medical College, respectively.
The Gajendra Shekhawat-led Jal Shakti ministry oversees the implementation of the rural household water mission.
“As per the very design of the scheme, aspirational districts have a priority when comes to laying water infrastructure. Similarly, priority is also accorded to areas with Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes population. This has led to a faster rate of implementation in priority areas,” an official with said, requesting anonymity.
The scheme also prioritises 61 districts in five states which are Japanese encephalitis-endemic. The aspirational districts identified by the state-run Niti Aayog have low human-development indicators. Drought-prone and desert areas are also high-priority zones.
The Union budget had allotted ₹10,001 crore in 2019-20 for the national rural drinking water mission. In 2020-21, ₹11,500 crore were provided. The Union budget 2021-22 allotted ₹50,000 crore for the mission.
Experts say a key challenge is to maintain sustainability of water supply sources. In previous attempts to provide drinking water supply, villages connected with water sources fell back to “no-water” status after a few years due to non-availability of water.
Maintaining sustainability will require work on different aspects altogether. These include groundwater recharge, water conservation and, critically, cutting down the overuse of water in agriculture, which hogs 90% of available supply, mainly because farming isn’t efficient.
“Agriculture’s demand for water is disproportionately huge. One of the reasons is free electricity and lot of incentives for crops such as paddy. India has to bring down its farm-water use to optimal levels for greater sustainability of groundwater,” says Alok Nath, a former water specialist at the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.