New Delhi: Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh plans to integrate the rural housing programme with plans to provide clean water and sanitation after he took charge of the ministry of drinking water and sanitation in July.
Gurudas Kamat, who was initially assigned the job, resigned from the government.
Ramesh suggested integrating the three separate programmes to improve efficiency and also proposed a plan to significantly boost spending on sanitation in the 12th five year plan starting 1 April to at least match government expenditure on providing clean water.
Lack of sanitation and clean drinking water cost India more than $53 billion a year, or equivalent of 6.4% of the nation’s gross domestic product, because of illness, death and lost productivity among other reasons, according to a December study by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme.
The focus on clean water and sanitation is critical in a nation where thousands of children die from water-borne and sanitation-related diseases such as diarrhoea and hepatitis.
“The fact that attention is being paid to drinking water and particularly sanitation and bringing them as key priority sectors in itself is a great move because these areas have largely been ignored so far,” said Yamini Aiyar, senior research fellow and director of the accountability initiative, Centre for Policy Research. “Linking housing with sanitation and drinking water is an important way forward.”
The drinking water and sanitation ministry is tasked with delivering clean water and sanitation related programmes including implementing the total sanitation campaign and the national rural drinking water programme in villages.
The ministry has a budget allocation of Rs11,000 crore for this fiscal, of which the drinking water programme has been allocated Rs9,350 crore and the remaining Rs 1,350 crore is for sanitation programmes.
“We are trying to bring about a fundamental change in the way we look at sanitation and water supply in the twelfth five year plan,” said Ramesh, who was addressing a day-long workshop for state secretaries in charge of rural water supply and sanitation on Monday. “So far, we have not been adding any value but next year onwards, we must make a major departure. In sanitation, there is a serious issue of resources. It is one of the most under-funded programmes both at the central and state level. The big challenge, therefore, is to step up public investment in sanitation which will have a multiplier effect,”
For drinking water supply in rural areas, the ministry has proposed that the centre would fund only piped-water supply projects and not hand-pumps in order to ensure quality of water. The ministry has proposed conditions for incentives based on governance reforms as well as a 10% incentive component under national rural drinking water plan to boost local control and management of the scheme.
It also plans to earmark 10% of the total rural drinking water plan allocation for integrated action plan districts, or areas that are most affected by Maoist violence, beginning this year itself.
Ramesh emphasised on the need to improve the life of villagers by intergrating housing, sanitation and drinking water programmes.
“We must introduce a new habitat improvement programme,” he said. “Bank finance must be integrated with government subsidy.”
New initiatives proposed by the ministry also include setting aside special funds for Maoist insurgency-affected areas.