File Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
File Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Opinion | The right resources will follow the right results on the ground

India’s approach of holistic and integrated water management is unique

In the past five years, rural India has seen a massive transformation in the access to basic services including electricity, cooking fuel, toilets, houses, healthcare and bank accounts. These transformations have been at an unprecedented scale and speed. This government has invested massively for the development of the rural economy, and many of its flagship social sector schemes have become stellar global examples of implementation at the last mile. The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), in particular, has achieved when no one gave it a chance of achieving when it was audaciously announced by the Prime Minister during his first Independence Day address.

Among key differentiators for SBM’s success were the political leadership and public financing that it received. As SBM delivered on the ground, it received a greater share of the pie. The central fund allocation for rural sanitation progressively grew from a little over 6,500 crore in 2015-16 to over 30,000 crore in 2018-19. This increase mirrored the progress that was made on increasing rural sanitation coverage on the ground.

The government is committed to ensuring that this success is sustained. The Prime Minister said on 2 October 2019, when recognizing the open defecation free (ODF) declaration by all states, that this was but a milestone and not the finish line. The work on sanitation continues and there is a strong focus on ensuring that people continue to use toilets and that no one is left behind. The department of drinking water and sanitation, ministry of jal shakti recently released the forward looking 10-year sanitation strategy, articulating the goal of moving from ODF to ODF-Plus—with an emphasis on solid and liquid waste management. We are confident that the commensurate resources will flow in with on-ground delivery.

The next basic service, and arguably the most significant of them all, that this government is committed to delivering, is piped water supply to rural households. On Independence Day this year, the Prime Minister announced the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), with the goal of ensuring piped water supply for all the approximately 1.8 million rural households of India by 2024. Along with this declaration, came a commitment of an outlay of 3.6 trillion for the scheme.

JJM will aim to promote decentralized, but integrated water resource management and service delivery at the gram panchayat level, with a key focus on water conservation, source sustainability, storage and reuse wherever possible. In groundwater stressed areas, especially in designated dark blocks and in areas affected by water quality issues, surface water-based multi-village schemes will be promoted, and in groundwater rich areas, single village schemes groundwater-based schemes with end to end source sustainability measures will be encouraged.

The approach of holistic and integrated water management that India is adopting is unique for any large federal country. India can lay out a template for other countries on securing national water security by integrating fragmented institutions, making water security everyone’s business and making the last mile delivery of safe drinking water another Jan Andolan.

Parameswaran Iyer is secretary in the department of drinking water and sanitation, ministry of jal shakti. The views expressed are personal.