BENGALURU: Looking at domestic and institutional resources to assist the Rs 53,000 crore mega project that assures piped, quality drinking water supply to all villages in Karnataka is just one of the missions that Panchayat Raj and Rural Development Minister Krishna Byregowda have undertaken. The ministry is looking to formulate ways of partnering with corporates to engage them in rural development activities. In an interview with The New Indian Express, Byregowda spoke about the roadmap for his ministry and why he believes that the frothing in Kolar lakes wasn't a mess, but a momentary lapse. Excerpts:
What is the primary focus of your ministry?
We have taken up the task of piped drinking water to all villages. As of today, about 1/3rd of the state has assured drinking water supply. The rest are dependent on water from either borewells, rivers or village water storage structures but they are not reliable in terms of source, quality and supply throughout the year. The idea is to provide quality drinking water. This milestone project is estimated to cost Rs 53,000 crore and will take five years to implement. This year, we will work on design, project report, tying up finances and groundwork. This will be the focus apart from the regular mandate of the department.
Will this be a fully government-funded project?
Any contribution in terms of CSR from corporates will be minuscule, considering the huge costs involved. For this project we are looking at institutional sources, domestic sources and international institutions for assistance. This year we will see who we can bank upon to fund and assist the state government for this project. This is a technically complex project with a huge financial load. But if we can pull this off, then it will be a permanent contribution to Karnataka's socio-economic development.
Are you considering corporate partnership in rural development?
Corporates can contribute through CSR in select areas. We want to identify a few well-defined areas and also formulate a transparent mechanism for their involvement. Though people are willing to part with resources, they want to be sure that it is going to the right causes, right places and being used right. We are thinking of holding a CSR-rural summit to invite corporates. This could take about 7-8 months but we will be hitting the parliamentary polls at that time and corporates are careful about who they align with. But this will be the first time the department will make an effort for corporate partnership. There are two sustainability issues: drinking water and rural solid waste management. If we agree that we are moving towards zero rural open defecation then the issue is rural waste management.
How effective have campaigns for safe sanitation been in rural areas?
Under Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and Swachh Bharat of the Central government, large number of toilets have been built in villages. A considerable amount of awareness has been created amongst people to use safe sanitation facilities. More than 22 lakh toilets have been built in the last 3 years and about 5 lakh families are yet to build toilets with the government's assistance of Rs 12,000 per unit. We want Karnataka to be declared 'open defecation free' this year. The Centre is running a month-long survey on rural sanitation awareness this month, facilities and usage of facilities — Swachh Survekshan Grameen 2018 to create awareness about safe sanitation and rank states, districts and villages. We will help people build remaining 5 lakh toilets before October 2.
As district in-charge minister, your reflections on the mess Bengaluru's treated water has created in Kolar?
I reject that there is a mess. There was a momentary lapse. The water was pumped for 30-40 days but one day there was a lapse and of course, we need to figure out why there was a lapse and ensure that there is no repeat. The project is as per standards laid down by the government of India, FAO and also WHO. There are norms for letting treated water into open water sources and water bodies. This is not a drinking water project, but a groundwater recharge project. There has been a gross misrepresentation of the project. Ground realities are different.