Nearly one in six schools in rural India goes without drinking water supply. That amounts to 1.32 lakh out of 8.45 lakh rural schools, according to information disclosed by the government to Parliament.
Experts say that in the absence of reliable statistics, the actual number of schools without water connections could be much higher.
There is already a huge mismatch between data provided by the department of elementary education and the department of drinking water supply (DDWS). Data with the DDWS puts the number of schools without water at 2.07 lakh.
The statistics get worse in some states: one-third of the schools in two of India’s most populous states—Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Karnataka—are not providing drinking water to their students. As on 4 April 2006, AP, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (MP) topped the list of states without drinking water facilities in schools.
While as many as 22,227 schools in AP lacked drinking water facilities, 16,668 in Karnataka, 12,955 in Rajasthan, 11,577 in MP, 10,522 in Assam and 6,770 in Uttarakhand were functioning without any water supply.
“In most cases, rural schools provide a tap, with no water,” said Madhav Chavan, director of non-governmental organization Pratham. “Where whole villages lack water supply, the school cannot have it. Where the number of teachers is higher, they make a special effort to get it,” he said.
A 29-member parliamentary standing committee on rural development, which submitted its report last week, noted that “it is really painful that after 56 years of planned development, schools could not be provided with the basic facility of drinking water.”
It pointed out that despite the Union government’s ambitious Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme, there was a big shortfall over the past four years.
In 2005-2006, for example, only 35,538 schools could be covered, against a target of 1.4 lakh.
The report also underscored the lack of accurate statistics on the number of schools without drinking water. Although the rural development ministry has begun compiling online data and regular monitoring, many states were lagging behind in updating it.
In its defence, the ministry pointed out that as water was a state subject, regional governments were primarily responsible for providing drinking water in rural areas. The ministry added that even where water supply was available, it was inadequate because of dwindling supplies, an increase in the number of students and poor maintenance.
N.C. Saxena, member of the government’s National Advisory Council, blamed the slow progress of the water scheme on the fact that states were unwilling to contribute 25-50% funding for the scheme and were also lethargic about submitting utilization certificates for the next instalment of grant.
“There was also a lot of confusion about which authority should take responsibility for it—the education department, the water boards or individual schools,” he added.
Separately, the parliamentary committee noted that despite the government’s commitment to provide safe drinking water to rural areas, only 3,249 villages against a target of 10,000 were provided water in 2005-2006.
It is World Water Day on 22 March.