New Delhi: The Indian government’s efforts to provide drinking water to rural areas have been criticised by a parliamentary standing committee as being inadequate.
A little over 84% households in rural areas are covered by rural water supply, while 16% have no access to safe drinking water. However, just 12% of rural families have individual household tap connections and only 16% of the population gets drinking water from public taps, according to the legislative panel’s report. Further, the sanitation coverage in villages is less than 65%.
The rural development committee was examining the department of drinking water supply’s demand for grants.
Click here to watch a slideshow on rural India’s water situation, narrated by Lizette Burgers, chief of water and sanitation for Unicef.
“The committee noted that the achievement in both sectors is not satisfactory. Not only that the target of achieving cent per cent rural sanitation coverage by March 2012 does not seem feasible and is expected to be achieved only by the year 2015,” the eighth report states. The department is a part of the ministry of rural development.
Some of the reasons for poor coverage include declining groundwater tables and contamination of sources, the department said in its response to the committee.
Water woes: These Rajasthani women travel 5km from their village to fetch drinking water. The government blames declining groundwater tables and contamination of sources for insufficient supply. Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint
“The other reasons (for around 16% households not having access to safe drinking water supply) are increase in population, new habitations coming up and non-functionality of existing drinking water systems due to poor operation and maintenance,” the department stated.
Some experts question the coverage figures provided.
“The Union government in the past few years had tried to do lots of innovative things around drinking water to reform the sector. One has been (able) to localize everything,” said Yamini Aiyar, senior research fellow and director of the accountability initiative, Centre for Policy Research. “However, one problem with the way it is designed is that it is completely focused on inputs and not around quality and maintenance, which are the main things.
“This is how the fairly high figures like 84% coverage get thrown up, which might not reveal the true picture,” she said. “The coverage figures might be high but with no maintenance. For instance, there might be several hand pumps with no water.”
As for sanitation coverage, the department said it was “demand-oriented and targets can only be achieved if sufficient funds are allocated”.
The department also stated it was up to the states to provide the level of services to be delivered to habitations.
“They are right to an extent that the state governments are responsible for the level of services since there has been a focus on decentralization,” Aiyar said. “However, how hard the department has tried to push the states is another question altogether.”
Meanwhile, the standing committee found that of the Rs8,000 crore provided to the department in 2009-10 under the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), nearly 88% was released till March 2010, but only around 56% of the target had been met.
NRDWP—an initiative of the department—aims at providing every rural person with adequate water for drinking, cooking and other domestic basic needs on a sustainable basis, ensuring permanent drinking water security in rural India.
Terming the department’s approach as “complacent”, the committee report states: “The committee would like to emphasize that the financial performance should match the physical performance.”
The department, meanwhile, stated the figures for physical achievements were low because the data did not include the achievements for March, and because current projects had not been included.
“While works may be ongoing, the state government indicates the coverage of such habitations only after the project is commissioned and safe drinking water is provided,” it said.