On Wednesday—the occasion of World Water Day—Union minister for rural development, drinking water and sanitation and panchayati raj, Narendra Singh Tomar, reiterated the government’s commitment to providing tap water on a sustained basis to every household by 2030. It is a laudable goal, but a difficult one. Currently, India has the highest number of people in the world without access to safe water. This has a substantial economic and social cost. For instance, the World Bank estimates that 21% of all communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygienic practices.
Certainly, there has been progress on this front since the issue was declared a national priority in the mid-1980s. But a long-term sustainable solution will entail difficult decisions. The increasing strain on India’s water resources and decreasing water tables mean that providing potable water is inextricably linked to rationalizing agricultural water use, currently distorted by various subsidies. It remains to be seen which government will bite the bullet.