Much of rural India now has taps, but running water largely remains a pipe dream

To assess how functional these taps were, the government commissioned a survey covering nearly 300,000 households in 13,303 villages in 2022. Photo: Mint
To assess how functional these taps were, the government commissioned a survey covering nearly 300,000 households in 13,303 villages in 2022. Photo: Mint


The Jal Jeevan Mission has made significant progress on installing taps in rural households since 2019, but only about half of these taps are fully functional, according to a survey commissioned by the government.

Clean water is a basic necessity for all. But access to it has been a longstanding challenge in India, with rural areas seeing unequal water distribution and inadequate infrastructure. 

To address this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) on 15 August 2019. The progress of the scheme and the challenges it faces forms the second part of our ongoing Plain Facts series as the ruling party seeks a third straight term.

JJM aimed to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections to all rural homes by 2024. Though it is yet to reach its target, it has made huge progress in five years, with 76.6% of the estimated 193 million rural households having tap connections as of 22 May, up from 16.8% when the scheme was announced in 2019.

Also read: The dichotomies that define India’s rural jobs promise

While 11 states and Union territories reported 100% coverage, seven were behind the national average. (Not all well-performing states benefited from the JJM alone, as state-level schemes also helped in some places, such as Bihar.) West Bengal and Rajasthan were particularly stressed, with less than half of rural households having a tap connection.

But after this infrastructure push comes the challenge of making it work. The progress there leaves much to be desired.


Beyond the taps

To assess how functional these taps were, the government commissioned a survey by HTA-Kantar Public in 2022, covering nearly 300,000 households in 13,303 villages. The survey defined functionality on the basis of three criteria: adequate quantity (at least 55 litres per capita per day), prescribed quality (the water should be potable), and regular availability (round the year).

Also read: The depth of India’s water crisis, explained in charts

It found that 86% of the tap connections were working on the day the data was collected. Of these, 85% received adequate quantity, 87% provided potable water, and 80% had a regular supply. But only 62% of these connections met all three criteria . 

For three states—Rajasthan, Kerala and Manipur—this figure was 40% or less, while it was 80% or more in four others: Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Telangana. (Note that the 62% figure for functional taps translates to just 53% of the overall sample.)

This shows that infrastructure alone is not sufficient to fulfil the needs of households. This is of huge importance because water contamination is an issue in several parts of the country where the disease burden is already high. 

A Parliamentary standing committee report said earlier this year that of the 57,539 habitations across India where water quality was found to be poor as of 15 August 2019, 38% still lacked safe drinking water as of February 2023. In these habitations, iron and salinity were found to be the biggest contaminants, while several also had arsenic and fluoride contamination.


Source sustainability

More than 80% of the types of tasks taken up under the JJM rely on groundwater as their source. But groundwater has its own set of drawbacks, and if it becomes too depleted, the tap connection is not sustainable. 

Considering two-thirds of India’s terrain is made of hard rock, groundwater is not easy to extract and is vulnerable to exploitation. Moreover, a only a tiny percentage of rainfall actually make its way into the ground because of this. The groundwater level also falls during India’s hot summers, which exacerbates concerns about its reliability.

Also read: Inadequate government funding keeps healthcare, education in crisis mode

Groundwater levels in 25% of India's districts are already classified as over-exploited, critical, or semi-critical, according to data from the Central Ground Water Board. Groundwater is also susceptible to contamination by chemicals such as arsenic and fluoride, which puts severe strain on water availability, especially in rural areas, as a previous Plain Facts article explained.

Nitin Bassi, senior programme lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, said these are natural or geological constraints, and the solution is to increasingly shift to using surface water.


Measurement gaps

Once all households in an administrative unit are receive a water connection, the unit is granted ‘Har Ghar Jal’ status. According the latest data on the JJM dashboard, only 20% of villages have been given this status as of 22 May.

Under JJM , the quantity of water supply is measured at the village level. This poses a challenge in determining whether the water is reaching the end user. In 2020, a year after the the scheme was launched, internet-of-things-based sensors were installed in nearly 200 villages to measure water supply on various parameters, including quantity. 

Barring this, there is no primary data on how much water households in these villages receive. A household-level survey or installing water meters could help measure the distribution of water within villages in a more useful manner.

JJM has provided more than 115 million households with a tap connection since its inception but experts say it is still a work in progress. "While physical infrastructure has been put in place, ensuring regular supply of adequate and quality water to the end user remains a challenge," Bassi said. “Though steps have been taken in this direction, more needs to be done to make the water systems reliable."

This is the second part of a four-part data journalism series on the progress of key welfare schemes. Read about the rural jobs scheme here (Part 1), the rural roads scheme here (Part 3), and the rural housing scheme here (Part 4). Also read our pre-election report card in the seven-part Election Pitch series here.

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