Piped water to be Modi 2.0 priority, the blueprint is in place
What toilets were to the Narendra Modi government in 2014 — the symbol of a nationwide crusade to end open defecation and build a cleaner India — piped potable water could well be for Modi 2.0.
The Jal Jeevan Mission, announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her first budget on July 5, is ready for cabinet approval and will be launched by the Prime Minister, Hindustan Times has learnt.
It may even find pride of place in his Independence Day speech.
The objective of the mission is to give access to piped potable water to every rural household by 2024. Only 18% of households in the countryside now have piped water supply, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is aiming for an over fivefold jump in five years.
The blueprint for the Jal Jeevan Mission, which has been publicised with the tagline “har ghar, nal se jal”, translating as “water from the tap in every home,” is ready and has already been approved by the Expenditure Finance Committee, government officials said. Only cabinet approval is pending.
Minister for Jal Shakti Gajendra Shekhawat said: “The day the scheme is approved, we will start working on it. The blueprint of this is absolutely ready.”
Water is a state subject, and Jal Jeevan won’t be an easy mission for the central government to accomplish. Shekhawat’s big idea is to present it as a challenge to local administrations, and turn it into a contest between state governments for central funds. “Whichever state does the maximum amount of work, will get the maximum amount of funds,” he said.
There is a catch. To receive central funds for water projects, the states and their district administrators will have to fulfil some tough conditions — create an underground storage facility with a sustainable source of water, ensure that the water is piped to households and devise ways for treatment and reuse of discharged water in activities like agriculture.
“We have spoken to all chief secretaries and secretaries to do all three things together. They should start preparing their respective plans,’’ said Shekhawat .
“Since water is a state subject, implementation has to be done by states. They will have to work with commitment and priority and we are here to support them,” the minister added.
He is right in projecting the scheme as a challenge. Nearly 163 million Indians lack access to clean water, the highest number for any country, according to WaterAid, a non-government organisation. Frequent droughts have led to crop failures and led to rural distress in parts of India, where only around a third of the cropland has access to reliable irrigation systems.
According to data from the Jal Shakti ministry, in states like Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand, fewer than 5% of rural households have piped water. That compares with 99% of rural households that have piped water supply in Sikkim.
For the rural drinking water mission, the government raised its allocation by 22% to Rs 10,001 crore in 2019-2020 from Rs 8,201 crore last year.
A note prepared the Jal Shakti ministry and reviewed by HT says the plan is to co-opt NGOs to help village councils and their subcommittees manage the planning and running of the local water supply system. In cases where there isn’t enough water supply for a single village, water from multiple villages will be pooled and shared.
Experts pointed out the importance of groundwater in any national policy on water.
“There are two things. One, any national policy on water has to pivot around groundwater because groundwater is India’s water lifeline. Secondly, there is a complete policy vacuum on the urban water sector. The impact of urban use is directly felt, both downstream and upstream, in terms of availability in rural areas,” said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.