Rohini Nilekani, founder and chairperson of Arghyam, a charity working in the water and sanitation sector:
What areas do you want the finance minister to focus on?
We haven’t really looked at the potential of groundwater to allow us to have sustainable solutions in the urban sector. We don’t have sufficient groundwater legislation. Today, almost anyone can dig a hole and draw out water. But, how do you use all the available water that falls on a city, first locally and sustainably? If we use the local resources first, you can reduce cost of production of water.
Right now, the model urban India is choosing is mostly to get water from further and further away. We are going to have millions of Indians moving to urban and peri-urban towns.
What should the FM do on this issue in the budget?
We have been suggesting to the FM to give a signal on urban groundwater usage. We need to understand how urban groundwater is coming into this country, who is managing it, and how can we bring it to the masses. We’ve suggested that the government should set up an urban groundwater research institute. It’s not going to be very expensive, but I think it will yield tremendous dividends if he can manage urban groundwater much better than we do.
Would you want the FM to do something for non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?
As a philanthropist, I fund a lot of NGOs. The sector is going through a lot of stress. The direct tax code will make the lives of many NGOs quite difficult. Some of the service tax and other provisions need to be looked at. As a philanthropist, if I give a grant to an NGO, authorities are coming and saying that this is a service I’m providing.
To me, it is the wrong way to look at it. If you want the NGO sector to partner the whole CSR (corporate social responsibility) idea, who’s going to do it? They’re going to need a thriving and sustainable NGO sector to do it. So let’s not trample on the NGO sector. Please look at the service tax, define public activity better, let’s get our NGO sector thriving again.