Record 80m rural households have piped drinking water under Jal Jeevan Mission
Official data show 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 flagship Jal Jeevan Mission.
Over a third of all households in aspirational and Japanese-encephalitis-endemic districts of the country now have piped water under the Mission.
According to Niti Aayog’s classification, aspirational districts are those with a lower than the national average of socio-economic indicators. They also lag in infrastructure development.
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About 11.2 million or 38% of all households in regions of the country deemed Japanese-encephalitis endemic have access to clean piped water critical to improving health outcomes, up from about 2.9% in 2019, an official said, requesting anonymity.
Under the flagship Mission, another 11.8 million households, or 35% of the total, have been provided with tap water connection in the aspirational districts, up from 7.9% in 2019, the latest data show.
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. Across India, slightly over 80 million or 42.5% of total rural households have been covered under the piped drinking water mission so far, official data show.
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.
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,” a second official said, requesting anonymity.
The Union budget 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 the 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 the 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 is not efficient.
“Agriculture’s demand for water is disproportionately huge. One of the reasons is free electricity and a 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,” said Alok Nath, a former water specialist at the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.