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The elixir of affluence

A recent development involving the provision of drinking water via taps in the temple town of Puri in Odisha has turned into a conversation starter on India’s standards of water sufficiency.

The elixir of affluence
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Chennai

It was earlier this week that the Naveen Patnaik-led Odisha government declared Puri as the first city in India to boast of city-wide safe drinking tap water. The state administration is now planning to roll out this facility in 16 more towns which include Cuttack, Rourkela, and Berhampur, and is expected to benefit 40 lakh people. All urban areas of the state are set to be provided with the ‘drink from tap’ water facility by March 2022, making it the first state in India to do so.

The initiative which was undertaken in Odisha follows closely on the heels of 41% of rural households in the country being provided with tap water connection, following the launch of the Centre’s flagship Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) in 2019. The scheme which entails an expenditure of Rs 3.6 trillion was aimed at providing all rural households with a tap water supply by 2024. Many states have committed they might be able to achieve their targets before the deadline.

As per Census 2011, India has over 190 mn rural households. When the JJM was kicked off, just over 30 mn homes had piped drinking water. Two years hence, 40 mn new households have been brought into the fold, during which Telangana, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Puducherry implemented the scheme in full. The quickening of the project would allow 50 mn more people to access tap water facilities in their homes. Last February, during the Union Budget, a sum of Rs 2.87 trillion was earmarked for the Jal Jeevan Mission Urban – which would in turn supply water to 4,378 urban local bodies, covering 2.68 cr water tap connections. The absence of an adequate piped drinking water supply is an embarrassment on many fronts to India. As per the World Bank, a leading cause of child morbidity is the unavailability of cleaning drinking water, and it shaves off 2% of the potential GDP. The NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index 2019 also tells us that the per person disease burden due to unsafe water and sanitation was 40 times higher in India than in China and 12 times higher than in Sri Lanka in 2016.

The report also talks about how the country is home to 17% of the world’s population, but only has 4% of its freshwater resources. Several regions are severely water-stressed with 820 mn people spread across 12 major river basins facing high to extreme water stress. In rural Tamil Nadu, just about 27 lakh rural households (21% of total 1.26 crore rural households) are equipped with tap water connections. And although Census 2011 shows that 80% of rural TN had tap water connections, they weren’t functional.

On the bright side, TN has scored high on a few parameters of the NITI report. The State has restored 100% of the irrigation potential of identified bodies, and 78% of critical wells have improved. The state has also constructed over 95% of its targeted water harvesting structures. But the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) finds itself stretched thin when it comes to meeting the demands of its citizens. Two years ago, residents had faced an unnerving water shortage as they had to wait for nothing less than two weeks for water to be delivered to their homes. Those with an urgent requirement are left to the whim and fancy of private water tankers. And that’s just the story of non-potable water. Drinking water is an altogether different challenge. For millions of tax-paying Indians, services including clean and safe drinking water, pothole-free highways, 24/7 electricity, efficient public transport, and timely garbage disposal come at a premium. As clean, accessible water is critical to health and the living environment, it is imperative that these services should be an essential aspect of governance that one should be able to take for granted.

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