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All homes in Telangana villages now have tap water, but it’s not a Nal Se Jal story alone

Before Har Ghar Nal Se Jal was launched in 2019 to equip every rural household with drinking water connection, Telangana had KCR's Mission Bhagiratha. 

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Hyderabad: Telangana is one of only two states in India where each and every rural household is said to have a tap water connection. Of the 52 Indian districts that have achieved 100 per cent coverage, according to data for the Modi government’s Har Ghar Nal Se Jal scheme, 32 are in Telangana alone.

What helped India’s newest state, carved out of Andhra Pradesh seven years ago, achieve this milestone is a three-year head-start on the rest of the nation. 

Before Har Ghar Nal Se Jal, also known as the Jal Jeevan Mission, was launched in 2019 with the objective of equipping every rural household with a drinking water connection, the state had Mission Bhagiratha, rolled out in 2016 by the K. Chandrashekar Rao government. 

Inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mission Bhagiratha has similar objectives as the Nal Se Jal scheme, but where the central initiative only focuses on rural areas, the Telangana scheme also factors in urban pockets. 

Speaking to ThePrint, an official in the state’s Mission Bhagiratha said Telangana had already achieved 98 per cent rural drinking water coverage by 2019, when Nal Se Jal was launched. 

While the numbers put Telangana in an exclusive club — alongside Goa — as far as drinking water access in villages is concerned, the ground situation suggests the results have been somewhat mixed.

Some residents emphasise how the availability of water within their homes has spared them long treks to community water points — treks that proved especially daunting in the punishing Telangana summer. Others point out that the situation is not ideal even now — some villagers say they get water for a few minutes every alternate day, as against the promised four hours daily. Broken, leaking taps, they claim, add to their woes.

The authorities acknowledge the concerns being faced by the beneficiaries, but say they are not obligated to provide a four-hour supply, adding that it is subject to several conditions, such as the population in a certain area. They state that the scheme is primarily meant to assure drinking water, saying community borewells can be tapped for other purposes.

Also Read: In these Haryana villages, PM Modi’s Nal Se Jal has ended a painful daily chore for women

The two schemes

Har Ghar Nal Se Jal was launched in August 2019 as the big public infrastructure programme of the Modi government’s second term. It’s part of a larger welfare push that has seen the government target open defecation, and distribute 8 crore LPG connections under the Ujjwala scheme before the deadline in 2019.

The scheme has a massive outlay of Rs 3.6 lakh crore, of which the central government is contributing Rs 2.08 lakh crore, with the rest coming from the states.

The Telangana scheme, meanwhile, is said to be rooted in a two-decade-old initiative Rao introduced as the MLA for Siddipet in 1998.

Mission Bhagiratha aims to provide about 100 LPCD (litres per capita per day) for rural areas, whereas the central government’s Nal Se Jal targets a supply of at least 55 litres per person per day.

‘Situation got worse during summer’

The time before Mission Bhagiratha kicked in doesn’t constitute a happy memory for Nazima Fatima, 33, of Ravalkole village in Medchal district.

Most households in her village, including Fatima’s, had a tap water connection by early 2019. In the days before, her family of seven used to survive on two 20-litre drums of water for two days or more. 

“Before we got a tap in our house, we used to depend on borewell motors that the village had. We had to walk almost a kilometre to reach that place for water. The situation got worse during the summer — there was scarcity of water, long queues,” she said.

For most villages, before Mission Bhagiratha pipelines were laid, the primary water source was borewells/ground water, with the Gram Panchayats installing borewell motors, hand pumps, and bringing in tankers.

In Ravalkole, the local administration laid out a few pipelines, set up communal taps, and got four storage tanks for distribution of borewell water to households, according to sarpanch Rajboina Mahesh.

Borewells, however, depend on the availability of groundwater, whose levels rise and fall based on the rainfall received, and the situation can get precarious during the summer. 

Ravalkole is one of 23,930 Telangana villages covered under Mission Bhagiratha. “Implementation process (for Bhagiratha) has been on for the past three years from laying of pipelines, construction of storage tanks, fitting tap connections etc. On average, a family of four members gets one tap connection,” said Mission Bhagiratha Engineer-in-Chief Krupakar Reddy.

Mission Bhagiratha employs surface/spring water, and the Godavari and the Krishna rivers serve as the primary source of water.

Once the water is sourced from rivers and reservoirs, it is then purified in water treatment plants and supplied to major Over Head Service Reservoirs (OHSR). The water is then transmitted through a secondary pipeline network to all the habitations, including villages. 

According to Reddy, the state government has spent about Rs 32,000 crore on the implementation. The total cost of the project is expected to touch around Rs 38,000 crore, he said. While 20 per cent of the expenditure is from the state exchequer, 80 per cent are borrowings (commercial/market loans etc) raised by the state, he added.

According to Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) Director Roopa Mishra, Telangana received Rs 259.14 crore from the Union government for the central scheme in 2019-2020. In the subsequent year, the state was allotted Rs 412.19 crore, but only Rs 81 crore has been released so far, she said, as the state government is yet to submit its action plan for JJM.

Also Read: In rural Punjab, Nal Se Jal has brought not just water but also a luxury few had: ‘free time’

‘Complaints of insufficient water’

Although the state government promises to provide water for four hours a day, residents in Ravalkole and Pudoor, another village, say they receive it for barely an hour a day and that too only on alternate days, which forces them to rely on borewells.

About 30 per cent of Ravalkole’s 944 households, the local administration said, have broken taps that are dysfunctional. 

Broken taps are leading to water wastage, said Engineer-in-Chief Reddy. Following complaints from several villages, across the state, the department started a “re-fitting” drive to check the connections in all the villages.

Adjoining Ravalkole is a hamlet with roughly 200 households named Saidhonigadda thanda — where residents say they receive water for 15 minutes every alternate day. Even today, they add, people in the village have to walk a kilometre to the nearest borewell to fetch water.

Ramulu, 58, relies on a local borewell pump as Mission Bhagiratha allegedly only brings water for 15 minutes on alternate days in his village | Rishika Sadam | ThePrint
Ramulu, 58, relies on a local borewell pump as Mission Bhagiratha allegedly only brings water for 15 minutes on alternate days to his village | Rishika Sadam | ThePrint

“Sometimes, it is only 10 minutes and that too on alternate days. We’ve complained to the local administration a lot of times, but they do not listen,” said 18-year old Shanti, as she waited in a queue near a borewell.

In Medchal Municipality, which covers the Athvelly, Kistapur, and Girmapur villages, the local administration keeps water tankers at hand to address water shortage. 

Asked about the concerns, Krupakar Reddy said it is not mandatory for us to provide water for four hours”. “Depending on population, usage, tanks capacity — we fill water. The capacity is usually 5 litres/minute. And, we need to remember, this water is primarily for drinking water purposes. For other activities, there are borewell pipelines,” he added. 

Roopa Mishra of the Jal Jeevan Mission said the state is definitely an “early mover” with the idea of assuring drinking water to rural areas, but added that the central scheme can help with sustainability of efforts.

“We now have to look at it as two parts — infrastructure building and sustainability. The state has completed the first one, now for the latter — we want residents of villages, especially women, to be part of the management,” she said. “They’re the end users — they know which water body helps them in what way.”

Also Read: In J&K’s Ganderbal, Nal Se Jal has reached all rural houses. But there’s a catch for some


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