Parched poor: No countryside for drinking water

The war for water has spread to the well-quenched corridors of power. Only 20.7 per cent of the rural populace has enough and safe water supply.

Published: 16th July 2017 07:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2017 07:20 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose only.

NEW DELHI: The war for water has spread to the well-quenched corridors of power. Only 20.7 per cent of the rural populace has enough and safe water supply, which has pitted the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, led by Narendra Singh Tomar, against Arun Jaitley’s Ministry of Finance (MoF).

About 140,000 children die in the country from diarrheal diseases each year, after using dirty water, says the latest WaterAid report. It ranked India among the worst countries in the world for the volume of people—an estimated 76 million—without access to safe water.

For a government that is aiming to cover 80 per cent of the rural population by 2022, the drinking water ministry has admitted to its inability to achieve the target due to fast drying up of funds. Already, the money flow for revival of the existing yet impoverished water sources is getting down to a trickle.

The drinking water ministry, which was hoping to receive Rs 16,900 crore per annum, got just Rs 6,050 crore for 2017-18—Rs 10,000 crore less.  Its 24-page draft note, which has put the blame squarely on the finance ministry, reveals messy details: how a majority of population are being deprived of their basic right.

“The Budget Estimate of 2017-18 is Rs 6,050 crore. Such level of funding by the government is meagre compared to the overall requirement to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 2030. If the government is to have pivotal role, we must continue National Rural Drinking Water Programme and must have annual funding as high as possible but at least to the tune of around Rs 16,900 annually—10 per cent incremental increase over Rs 10,500 crore provided during 2012-13.

However, the MoF is suggesting to restrict the requirement at the present BE level for 2017-18 and 10 per cent annual increase for the subsequent two years,” the draft Expenditure Finance Committee note, dated July 3, stated. Although it highlighted that the reduction is due to 14th Finance Commission recommendation that enhanced devolution of grants to the states by 10 per cent, the Central Government will have to pitch in if it wants to achieve the target at a faster pace.

The Central government will have to pitch in if it wants to achieve the target of covering 80 per cent of the rural population with drinking water access by 2022 at a faster pace, according to a Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation note.

“The present status clearly shows that the achievement towards pipe water supply coverage—55 litres Per Capita Per Day (LPED) including stand posts—is only 20.70 per cent in terms of population and 15.62 per cent in terms of habitations. Hence, there is a long way to go.”

“It is pertinent to mention here that during 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017), there was a Plan outlay of Rs 68,760 crore whereas allocation was only Rs 39,820 crore. Thus there was a shortfall of about Rs 30,000 crore in this period itself ,” the ministry note said.

The ministry pointed out that as on March 31, over 3.85 lakh habitations are not covered with 40 LPED. Amidst the substantial reduction of budget, the Centre has launched a new piped water supply strategy known as ‘Har Ghar Jal (water in every household) to ensure that all rural households have access to adequate and clean piped water supply. The ministry estimates that it would require at least Rs 6 lakh crore to meet the target.

The Centre-state funding ratio of drinking water programme is 50-50 except the Northeast and three Himalayan states—Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where funding pattern entails 90 per cent from the Centre and 10 per cent states.

Interestingly, the ministry has maintained that many states are investing much more funds than the requisite matching Central share because the latter’s funding is meager compared to the overall requirements of the states. With the present rate of funding, the ministry said, individual household tap connections—15.57 per cent at present—may go up to only 27 per cent in 2020.

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