New Delhi: As the Modi government’s flagship programme to provide potable water connection to every rural household by 2024 enters its final leg, one of the biggest challenges it faces is finding a sustainable source for 150 of India’s most water-stressed districts.
Availability of potable water is a big challenge in the water-scarce districts spread mostly across three states — Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Senior officials in the central government’s department of drinking water and sanitation (DDWS), which is implementing the ‘Har Ghar, Nal Se Jal’ programme, told ThePrint it was a challenge to find sustainable sources from where regular, reliable, and quality water can be supplied to households in these 150 districts.
The Nal Se Jal programme, launched in August 2019, has a total outlay of Rs 3.60 lakh crore. Of this, the central government’s share is Rs 2.08 lakh crore while the states bear the rest of the cost.
When the scheme was launched, only 3.23 crore (about 16.7 per cent) of 19.32 crore rural households had functional tap water connections, according to government data. The department’s target is to cover the remaining 16.15 crore (83 per cent) households by 2024.
Until 14 February, it has provided functional tap water connection to 7.93 crore or 49.11 per cent of these.
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The challenge — identifying sustainable water sources
DDWS officials admit that the task is most challenging in areas where groundwater is scarce or contaminated (arsenic or fluoride contamination) and where water has to be brought from outside.
“Where adequate groundwater is available, it doesn’t take long to lay the infrastructure,” one official told ThePrint, adding that meeting the 2024 deadline could be challenging in areas where this is not the case.
With the programme now in its last year, the ministry is focusing on these difficult areas and ensuring that all schemes are well planned out before work starts, officials said. So far, contracts for all the projects have been awarded, except in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
It was to address the infrastructure bottlenecks in the water-stressed region and to ensure that funds are adequate that the allocation for Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) — the scheme under which ‘Nal se Jal’ operates — was increased in the 2023-24 budget, officials said.
Allocation for JJM was Rs 70,000 crore in Budget 2023-24, up from Rs 60,000 budgeted in 2022-23.
According to DDWS secretary Vini Mahajan, work has begun in water-stressed pockets of UP, MP, and Rajasthan.
“The three states have assured us that they will award all projects before 31 March 2023. UP, for instance, has already awarded all multi-village projects in the Bundelkhand region, one of the most water-stressed regions of the state. Similarly, Rajasthan is also working at augmenting its water sources,” she told ThePrint.
According to the information from the DDWS portal, UP and Rajasthan continue to be at the bottom of the list with just 30.45 per cent and 31.70 per cent of all households getting potable tap water connections. Among the other laggard states and union territories below the 40 per cent bracket are West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Lakshadweep.
Officials admit that until the inter-basin transfer of water interlinking of rivers) happens in these stressed areas, it will be difficult to ensure the sustainability of reliable water sources and meet the JJM target of providing 55 litres per capita per day (lpcd ) of water to every household.
According to Mahajan, 2023 will see significant progress in the Jal Jeevan Mission, with all Single-Village Schemes getting over this year and substantial progress in Multi-Village Schemes.
A Single-Village Scheme is implemented for individual villages that have adequate availability of water. However, for villages where water is scarce and brought from outside, multiple villages are clubbed together under the Multi-Village Scheme.
“The process to identify sources that can help meet immediate water requirements and also augment source sustainability in these areas has begun. We are focusing on recharging water in these water-scarce areas through various means including rainwater harvesting. Our focus now is to get last-mile bottlenecks out of the way in these difficult areas,” Mahajan said.
Currently, 100 per cent of households in Goa, Gujarat, Telangana, Haryana, Puducherry, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands have tap water connections.
Centre’s helping hand
According to one DDWS official, since last year, the central government has been helping states to get regulatory and environmental clearances for the scheme.
“Earlier states were struggling sometimes to get clearances from railways and environment ministries on their own. We followed up with the environment ministry to fast-track the clearances. The environment ministry initiated policy reforms to get clearances expedited,” the official said.
Similarly, states like Arunachal Pradesh — which has villages scattered all over — have asked the department to relax some of the norms of the scheme to ensure that even the remotest of these are covered under ‘Nal Se Jal’.
“We considered their request and have relaxed the norms,” the official quoted above added.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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