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Gauging the water mark

Analysis of the ‘newly’ introduced Jal Jeevan Mission is integral to measuring India’s progress towards achieving supply of potable water to all its citizens

Gauging the water mark
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During the devastating drought experience of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the early summer of 1967, the Government of India introduced water borewells in 250 villages with the technical support of relief agencies, particularly UNICEF. As a part of emergency relief action, a rural water supply programme was introduced in 1969, which was later named as the 'Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme' in 1972. In 2009, the earlier water supply programme was renamed as the 'National Rural Drinking Water Supply Programme' and the goal was set to provide potable drinking water to all villages in the country by 2030, along with accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals. It is the same programme which has now been renamed again as 'Jal Jeevan Mission' by the current government, with the plan to achieve 'water for all' by 2024, six years before the deadline to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

The Prime Minister announced the programme on the occasion of the 73rd Independence day, after getting approval from the union cabinet on August 13, 2019. The 'Jal Jeevan Mission' aims to provide 'Functional Household Tap Connections' (FHTCs), i.e., 'Har Ghar Nal Se Jal' in adequate quantity (55 litres per capita per day) and prescribed quality as per BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) standard to every rural household. The Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the implementing body, has planned out the operational guidelines for the programme within four months in consultation with the different states. The Prime Minister has launched these guidelines on the 25th of December in Vigyan Bhawan along with 'Atal Bhujal Yojana'. As per the government's claim, it has been estimated that providing tap water connection in 14.6 crore rural household (81.67 per cent) shall cost Rs 3.8 lakh crore. Over the cost-sharing pattern, the document states that the cost shall be split between the Centre and states respectively in the ratio of 90:10 for Himalayan and North Eastern states, 50:50 for other states and 100 per cent for Union Territories.

The most contentious and debatable issue is the proposal of service and recovery user charges and provision of tap water connection based on the unique identification number (Aadhar card). On the other hand, the programme has merit and timely interventions in-built. We need to discuss the positive and negative implications of the provisions made in the programme.

The 'Jal Jeevan Mission' seems to be a mix of top-down, bottom-up and utility-based approaches. The country has, over the years, gained a wide range of experiences in water-related programmes and the knowledge thereof. Arguments over decades, calling for an integrated approach and structural changes in water-related programmes and management system, now seem to have fructified in the form of the Jal Shakti Ministry which has been constituted after integrating two water-related departments and 'Jal Jeevan Mission'.

Besides this, another positive aspect of the programme is the emphasis given to the participation of women and grey-water management. The post-use water from the rural households, either from the kitchen, laundry or washing and bathing may become useful resources for agricultural, groundwater recharge or other non-potable uses. The programme has integrated this component with the 'Swachh Bharat Mission' for proper treatment of the wastewater before using it. The grey-water management will manifest into a substantial element of the 'Swachh Bharat Mission'. However, grey-water management should have been an integral part of the 'Swachh Bharat Mission', to begin with, but now it is incorporated in the 'Jal Jeevan Mission'.

The most striking aspect of the programme is the introduction of the user charge in rural areas. As per guidelines, 5 per cent of capital costs have to be shared by the hilly, forested and SC/ST (if more than 50 per cent of the population) dominated villages and 10 per cent by the remaining rural habitats. The Panchayati Raj institutions have been given a crucial role in the making of the village action plan along with the task of operation and maintenance of the infrastructure and also to decide the service charges for operation and maintenance. The rural population of the country (67 per cent) has the highest percentage of poor, along with farmers, marginal workers and the labour class. Until now, by and large, people in the villages are not having to spend from their meagre earning to purchase water, which is supposed to be free, as and when and if it is available from public sources.

The water pricing in rural areas is based on the conventional hypothesis that higher user charges lead to better efficiency of the services. This hypothesis was tested in 455 villages of Tamil Nadu through a pilot project of rural water supply with randomly assigned targeted user charges. The results from this pilot project were evident in stating that adding economic value to water resources is not going to reduce the consumption pattern or improve the service delivery. Rather, closely working with the community and consciousness of the people shall have positive implications.

The other essential aspect to discuss is the guideline to get the connection through the Aadhar card of the head of the household. It is essential to mention here the experience of arsenic affected rural areas where due to skin-related diseases, fingerprints do not match with the Aadhar card data. There are reports of rural areas where people have been denied the services due to mismatch of the fingerprint or Aadhar related errors. The State of Aadhar Report 2017-18 by IDinsight revealed that 0.8 per cent, 2.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent of the beneficiaries of PDS were excluded due to Aadhar related factors in rural Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal respectively.

The programme seems similar to the 'Swachh Bharat Mission' as it changes the name of the earlier sanitation programme and plays with the data to show it as 100 per cent ODF. The 'Jal Jeevan Mission' is also on a mission mode after changing the name of the earlier programme to achieve the goal within five years, four times that of what has been achieved in seven decades. The "Hindiasation" of the programmes and monopoly over data is the best tool to make the people happy. However, in real terms, the programme will have an adverse effect on people with lower socioeconomic status.

The writer is a Research Scholar for the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are strictly personal

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