Ganderbal: Shaheen Ahmed, a Ganderbal-based businessman, has no doubt that the Narendra Modi government’s Har Ghar Nal Se Jal programme — which seeks to ensure drinking water supply to every rural household by 2024 — has made things better in the district.
Manzoor Ahmed Lone, the sarpanch for Kangan in Ganderbal, also has a similar opinion. However, both point out that the scheme has one shortcoming: It has not been able to completely satisfy residents in hilly areas as the water pressure remains low.
Ganderbal in Kashmir is one of the 52 districts (as of 22 February) in India where Har Ghar Nal Se Jal has achieved 100 per cent coverage. But its geography — much like the rest of Kashmir, it is part hills, part plains — presents some challenges.
While residents in the plains say the mission has helped resolve the water issues they faced earlier, those living on the hills complain that water shortage remains a concern, especially owing to “thin pipes” and low pressure of water.
The local administration acknowledges these concerns, and says work continues to improve the supply. Covid-19 and inclement weather proved impediments, government officials add, but point out that the targets set under the plan have been met regardless.
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.
Har Ghar Nal Se Jal 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.
Ganderbal, a tourist favourite, is divided into seven blocks — Ganderbal, Lar, Wakoora, Sherpathri, Safapur, Kangan and Gund.
According to government data accessed by ThePrint, the highest number of rural households is in Wakoora block (9,340), followed by Ganderbal (8,885). Sherpathri (7,043), Kangan (5,479), Lar (4,512), Gund (3,633) and Safapur (2,659) follow.
All the district’s 41,551 rural households have been provided with drinking water supply, as compared to 71 per cent before the Har Ghar Nal Se Jal programme was launched in 2019.
Mohammad Aslam Zargar, the Chief Executive Officer of the Jammu & Kashmir Jal Shakti department, earlier called the public health engineering department, said the administration adopted a multi-pronged policy to achieve the targets.
“Earlier, our slogan was water in every village. After the mission was launched, our slogan became ‘Har Ghar Nal Se Jal’,” he added. “We conducted a baseline survey where we found out that there are 41,551 households in Ganderbal. The next step was to reach out to places where water connections were not established. Once this was done, we began providing water,” said Zargar.
Shaheen Ahmed, the Ganderbal businessman, said his area did not face major water issues prior to the scheme. “Of course, there were some parts that did not have an adequate water supply, but the situation has improved over the past one year. However, in the far-flung areas, the situation remains dire.”
Javaid Ahmed, a resident of Dar Mohalla in Shalbug, said, “The pipes that come into our homes have no pressure. They are two or four inches in diameter. For a decent supply of water, we need at least 8-10 inches. We have to walk half a kilometre to get water from a communal tap.”
He added: “Furthermore, the shortage of water in the winter, when water freezes in the taps and pipes, causes a lot of inconvenience to villagers.”
Kangan sarpanch Lone, whose village spans both plains and hills, faces a unique problem. “Fifty per cent of my people are happy while the 50 per cent who live in the hills aren’t. No doubt the quality of water has improved and so has the quantity. Pipes have been established as well but the pressure at which water comes is not enough to reach the hilly parts.”
Mushtaq Khan, who is the district coordinator of the panchayat conference, an association representing panchayats, said the “bureaucracy remains unconcerned with the problems people face”. “The Nal Se Jal scheme has been completed on paper, but not on ground,” he added.
‘Plans to increase water supply’
Speaking to ThePrint, senior government officials said there are plans to only increase the water supply capacities.
“We have formulated projects to increase water supply. There are about 44 projects — 33 under languishing projects (that have crossed their deadline) and 11 are new. These cost about Rs 100 crore,” said Zargar. “The tendering process for these is almost complete. Similarly, we have four projects under NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) for Rs 15 crore. Then we have taken up five more projects under the National Rural Drinking Water Programme that are worth Rs 15 crore,” he added.
According to the officer, the department is providing 55 litres per person per day under the mission. The quantity is 8-10 litres in harsh terrains. “We are currently working on increasing the quantity to 70 litres per day. We are also working on improving water quality because, unlike other parts of J&K, the water in Ganderbal has higher levels of arsenic and iron at places,” said Zargar.
A senior government officer said Ganderbal has 126 panchayats, and ‘pani samitis’ or water committees have been established in all of them.
“The samitis are headed by the sarpanch (concerned) and a junior engineer is member secretary. The samiti also has ASHA workers and school teachers who look over water affairs at panchayat levels,” the officer added. “Very soon, they will be provided with testing kits so they can examine water quality. Every effort is being made to make this scheme a success and people satisfied.”