Wednesday, 5 October, 2022
HomeOpinionJal Jeevan Mission empowers India’s rural women, increases their participation: MoS Kataria

Jal Jeevan Mission empowers India’s rural women, increases their participation: MoS Kataria

On this International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the women in India's villages who have endured immense social and physical hardships just to secure drinking water for their families.

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The Preamble to our Constitution starts with the lines “We the people of India”. Here ‘we’ refers collectively to men, women and the third gender. The makers of our Constitution did not envision any special privileges to any gender, thereby ensuring equality for one and all. As we come to celebrate the International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is time for us to celebrate the achievements of Indian women in various fields. It is also an opportunity for us to assess, analyse and reflect upon the challenges that still exist in our society and act as a handicap for women.

Growing up in a small village in Haryana, my memory is replete with instances of my mother, sister and aunts walking long distances to fetch drinking water from designated wells and ponds. They endured immense social and physical hardships to secure drinking water for their families.

This has been a common story for the majority of rural women numbering over 40.5 crore (2011 Census), considering the fact that until 15 August 2019, only 3.23 crore rural households out of a total 19.18 crore had piped water connections. Mere data is not enough to assess the far-reaching implications that non-availability of potable piped water has on people belonging to the weaker most sections of society and especially women.

Women and girls in India spend a considerable time (up to 352 minutes per day) in performing the domestic chores. This is 577 per cent more than their male counterparts (52 mins/day) and 40 per cent more than women in South Africa and China (OECD data). Collecting drinking water for their families constitutes a major part of it. This poses a major barrier to enrollment of girls in schools, especially those belonging to below poverty line (BPL) households. The magnitude of the problem becomes clear with over 11 crore rural women pegged to be below the poverty line in India (Planning Commission estimates, 2004-05).

Variability in water supply due to heavy dependence on monsoon rains and ground water adds up to their vagaries. It exacerbates gender inequality. In India, about 70 per cent of the rainfall is received during the monsoon season and its intensity varies – each year, from one region to another. As a result, 42 per cent of Indian landmass is rendered drought prone (Drought Early Warning systems report: March 2019).

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Impact of inadequate access

It is well known that extreme weather events like droughts have a devastating impact on weaker sections of society because they lose out on livestock and crop yield. Food prices shoot up and it has a crippling effect on their health and nutrition, ultimately affecting human capital. Women, and girl children in particular, bear the brunt and are most adversely affected. It leads to their stunted growth, which gets passed down the generations. As per a World Bank study, it was observed that “women who experienced a large dry shock (below average rainfall) in infancy are 29 per cent more likely to have a child suffering from some form of anthropometric failure—that is, being significantly below average size in terms of height for age, or weight for age, or weight for height”. This reflects the urgency to provide potable water to each household in order to secure our human capital and to prevent stunting of our future generations.

About 90 per cent of the rural population is still dependent on ground water for their drinking water supply (CGWB). There is a huge reliance on hand pumps for catering to domestic and drinking water needs. As on date, there are over 58,31,253 operational hand pumps throughout the nation (JJM IMIS). The number is only indicative and not exhaustive. This leads to risk of consuming water contaminated with high amounts of arsenic, fluoride, iron and nitrates.

Researchers have established an inverse relationship between prenatal and early childhood exposure to contaminated water and cognitive abilities. Moreover, inadequate access to water for sanitation purposes, physical and psychological stress on account of fetching water from distance also leads to increase in rate of preterm birth (PTB) and low birth weight (LBW).

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JJM, Modi govt’s resolve

Providing water to each household is an inescapable duty of any government. Water is the elixir of life and “is deemed to be a merit good that is something to which people have a right, regardless of (the) ability to pay – because it is essential for life.” It is enshrined as a human right in resolution number 64/292 of UNited Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which calls upon governments to ensure adequate and affordable quantities of safe water for domestic use.

Accordingly, in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his government’s resolve to provide piped water connections to every rural household under the flagship programme ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’. The newly formed Jal Shakti ministry is implementing the Scheme to provide ‘Nal Se Jal’ and to secure ‘Har Ghar Jal’ target by 2024.

In about a year, 3.04 crore households have been provided piped water connections under the JJM scheme. Goa and Telangana have achieved 100 per cent coverage. So far, 52 districts, 669 blocks, 41,835 gram panchayats and 81,154 villages in the country have achieved the targets of ‘Har Ghar Jal.

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Beyond water connection

But the JJM has had a much bigger impact socially, due to the fact that water connection is becoming available to people of all caste, community, religion, etc. Truly, ‘no one is left behind’. Villages where the majority population comprises SC/ST are being given priority and the aim is to secure 55 litre per capita per day (lpcd) of safe drinking water. This inclusive approach largely benefits the weaker most sections, especially women.

As part of the JJM’s bottom-up approach, water supply committees or Paani Samitis are created at the village level to prepare an action plan. As a rule, half of these committees’ members must be women because they are not only the most affected group but their participation plays a crucial role in the programme’s effective implementation. A UN study has shown that panchayats with more women as members perform better in projects such as drinking water supply and sanitation. The JJM seeks to provide a platform for their participation as well as empowerment.

Moreover, realtime nationwide water data is made available on to ensure transparency. Also, people who have witnessed the ordeal of their mothers and sisters while walking long distances to fetch water can make contributions through the Rashtriya Jal Jeevan Kosh.

Hence, the outcome of Jal Jeevan Mission is not limited to the number of connections provided. It aims to mitigate the economic, social and physical hardships that rural women have to endure in absence of supply of regular, reliable and safe drinking water at their doorstep. It aims at improving their ‘ease of living’ and providing them ‘dignity of living’.

Rattan Lal Kataria is Union Minister of State for Jal Shakti/Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. Views are personal.

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