Women to be at forefront of Centre’s water mission
As part of the scheme, women in panchayats, and other anganwadi and grassroots workers, are being trained to carry out water quality monitoring and surveillance (WQMS) in 256 water-stressed districts that have been identified for the mission’s first phase
A key role has been chalked out for women members of gram panchayats in the ambitious Jal Jeevan Mission — which aims at increasing the piped water network in India — announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech last month from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
Modi said in his August 15 speech that around ₹3.5 lakh crore will be spent under the scheme, which is one of the biggest and most crucial objectives of the newly created Jal Shakti ministry at a time when several parts of the country do not get adequate potable water.
As part of the scheme, women in panchayats, and other anganwadi and grassroots workers, are being trained to carry out water quality monitoring and surveillance (WQMS) in 256 water-stressed districts that have been identified for the mission’s first phase, according to a top official familiar with the matter.
“As we know, in rural areas, women play a critical role in managing health, hygiene and sanitation of their family members, and therefore, investing on them in training, and empowering them to test the quality of water, will reduce incidence of water-borne diseases and improve the health as well as socio-economic conditions of their families,’’ Bharat Lal, the additional secretary in the Jal Shakti ministry, told HT.
About 2% of the Rs. 3.5 lakh crore promised for the water mission has been set aside for maintaining water quality, another senior official said.
According to data from the Jal Shakti ministry, 530,000 chemical water testing and about 120 million bacteriological water testing kits have already been procured through the states.
These kits, which cost between ₹1,500 and ₹1,800 each, are being funded by the central government but distributed by the states. Depending on the quality of water in the area, different types of kits are distributed. For instance, the chemical kits test for fluoride and iron, and are ideal for places such as Jharkhand where the water may have these chemicals.
And while there are state- and district-level testing labs, the emphasis is on making 3.6 million village-level workers being trained by the government to be responsible for water surveillance. This works out to roughly five panchayat members, mostly women, in each of the 750,000 villages across the country.
A “pani samiti”, or water and sanitation committee, is being created in every village, said Lal. While the contours are still being figured out, water ministry officials said the committee will be responsible for taking decisions on what each household should be charged for piped water, and what kind of infrastructure support they need from the government.
Latest figures by the Jal Shakti Ministry say that 53% of villages in India are lacking in either quantity or quality of water, which means that they get less than 1,545 cubic metres of water per person in a year. Over 1,700 cubic metres would make it adequate water supply.
“Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, the endeavour is to enable every village community to manage its water sources in such a manner that they are able to function like a local public utility and ensure long-term water security, which means they are able to plan, manage, implement, operate and maintain their drinking-water supply. They are to be empowered so much that they are able to appreciate water quality issues and carry out basic tests to determine the potability of water,’’ Lal said.
Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said while this initiative is effective in raising awareness, the real work required from the government will be on sustainable water sources and how to recharge them. “One has to come up with ways to have sustainable water supply in villages and I am waiting to see that from the ministry,’’ he said.
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