Centre to work with States on water access

Cooperation is vital, says Minister

Given that water is a State subject, it will take the exercise of “cooperative federalism” to achieve the Modi government’s big-ticket agenda of providing piped drinking water to all households by the end of its second term, Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said on Tuesday.

He was speaking to journalists during a conference with State-level ministers and secretaries of water and sanitation departments, where he assured them that the new ‘Nal se Jal’ scheme will be flexible enough to take local issues and concerns into account.

Currently, only 18% of rural households get piped water, and State performances range widely from 99% in Sikkim to less than 5% in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.

Integrated approach

“We need to work together with an integrated approach to the problem,” said Mr. Shekhawat, urging States to work on the issue out of conviction.

“If conviction is ignored, then we will have to do it out of compulsion,” he warned.

The previous National Rural Drinking Water Programme fell far short of its goals to provide access to safe drinking water to all by 2017, despite the expenditure of more than ₹81,000 crore over a five year period.

An audit of the NRDWP by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2018 partially attributed its failure to a sharp drop in Central funding from 2015 onwards, from ₹14,000 crore per year to less than ₹7,000 crore. States were unable to increase their own funding, and also failed to utilise even the reduced allocations from the Centre, it said.

“Implementation of the scheme was marked by lack of proper planning and funds management and delivery, as well as ineffective execution of works that resulted in undue delays and expenditure,” added the CAG report.

Apart from consulting with State-level players, the Centre is also reaching out to leadership at the local village level for effective implementation of the new Nal se Jal scheme.

“The Prime Minister is writing a personal letter to village sarpanches and pradhans, that they should be flag-bearers for this issue,” said the Minister.

Laying out the broad contours of the scheme, Drinking Water and Sanitation Secretary Parameswaran Iyer said in areas where groundwater is used as the source for piped water, the system would be managed by the local community. Where surface water is used as the source, the State would have to work out a management system clubbing villages together, he said. “It will be performance-based with a focus on outcomes and not just expenditure,” he added.

The scheme would also focus on water conservation (which would be promoted as a people’s movement), aquifer recharge, and the recycling of “grey water”, said Mr. Iyer, noting that the country’s current water deficit – the difference between available and required water – was 43%. The CAG’s report on the previous NRDWP scheme had also raised sustainability concerns, noting that 98% of initiatives under the scheme were based on unsustainable groundwater resources.

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