New Delhi: The recently released Economic Survey for 2007-08 says Kerala has the worst record in terms of providing safe drinking water to its citizens, and the finance minister of the state which boasts human development indicators such as literacy and life-expectancy comparable to Western European countries say that it could have gotten its facts wrong.
Fact of the matter: A state that boasts high levels of literacy and life-expectancy cannot have the worst record in safe drinking water access, argues Isaac who says the Plan body has got its facts wrong.
Experts in the Planning Commission, India’s apex planning body, admit that this could well be the case.
According to the Economic Survey, only 23.4% of the households in the state have access to safe drinking water. Orissa (79.8%), Bihar (68.6%), Chhattisgarh (70.5%) and Jharkhand (42.6%) which have fared worse than Kerala on all other indicators have done better in terms of access to drinking water.
Punjab tops the list with 97.6% of households in the state having access to portable water.
Lakshadweep scores worse than Kerala — only 4.6% of households in the Union territory have access to drinking water and this is because Lakshadweep is a collection of islands in the middle of the Arabian Sea.
But Kerala’s finance minister T. M. Thomas Issac says he does not agree with the figure quoted in the Economic Survey. “If access to drinking water was such a huge problem in Kerala, then it would not be possible to have a high life-expectancy and low infant mortality rates here,” he says.
The average life expectancy in Kerala is 73.9 years, while infant mortality rate is 15; both are the best figures in their respective categories.
However, data in the Economic Survey for 2006-07 on the availability of drinking water at three points in time in the past three decades, 2001, 1991 and 1981, also showed that Kerala fared the worst. But this data seems to have escaped the notice of most experts.
According to economist Jean Dreze, the reason why Kerala fares badly in terms of access to drinking water is because wells, which are the source of water supply in large parts of the state, are generally considered unsafe, although this isn’t the case in Kerala.
“In Kerala, the wells are safe as they are treated with purifying agents or are covered with nets,” Dreze added.
The economist also said some effort should be put into interpreting data properly while preparing the Economic Survey.
Planning Commission officials also said that the data on drinking water availability in states was misleading.
“I am surprised that this kind of data exists because there are other states that have even more problems when it comes to the quality of water,” said Sayeeda Hameed, a member of the Planning Commission.
According to Hameed, who is an expert on health, the data provided in the Economic Survey needs to be scrutinized to weed out such disparities.
Planning Commission member Bhalchandra Mungekar, who ir responsible for Kerala at the planning body said that the figure quoted in the survey needs to be “accepted with some caution.”
According to Mungekar, the situation needs to be studied in the light of some of the recent outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the state.
He added that if the number is true, then it would have some impact on the life expectancy level in the state.
Meanwhile, a report prepared by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment, (KSCTE) says that 90% of the wells in Kerala have been contaminated.
Data collated by the KSCTE says that there has been an increase in diseases in the state, especially chikungunya, leptospirosis, dengue and malaria. Poor quality of water could be to blame.
“I agree that there is some problem (in terms of provision of safe drinking water) but not to the extent as portrayed in the Economic Survey,” the minister said.