Opinion: Modi government's Vikas 2.0 to pioneer with Nal Se Jal scheme

In the last five years Narendra Modi made many things available to the common man in India. What were purported to be facilities available to the urbanised and elite were made available to rural and deprived Indians.
Opinion: Modi government's Vikas 2.0 to pioneer with Nal Se Jal scheme
Photo: Abhilasha Udaygeeth

Chennai

The best universal campaign was the clarion call of Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 2014 for a Clean Bharat. Following which, Swachh Bharat Mission became a mantra and construction of toilets across the country has been carried out at a rapid speed to make India free from open defecation before October 2, 2019.

After the Sab ke Saath Sabka Vikas— development for all—many families started receiving bank accounts and subsidy amounts were transferred without any pilferage, as it was in the earlier years. Apart from providing gas stoves, subsidy for housing, electricity for people living in remote last-mile locations and innovative insurance schemes, the nerve shattering demonetisation left money launderers and tax evaders in fear. Demonetization has also paved way for digital transactions, thousands of start-ups have sprung across the country creating an atmosphere to ease business and many more activities that have induced inclusive growth.

Unlike some precedence of abruptly discontinuing projects taken up by predecessors, Modi implemented the GST and went on with the Rafale deal started by the former government. As a person close to the micro finance sector, I felt gratified when Modi government went on with the formation of ten new Small Finance Banks in 2014, a pioneering concept that has revolutionised the banking sector. This concept has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Modi when financial inclusion in the form of Jan Dhan was introduced later on.

Nal Se Jal- Piped-water scheme

Within a few days of the formation of the new Ministry of Jal Shakti, under which the erstwhile Ministry for Drinking Water and Sanitation is now functioning, the government has announced a new Nal Se Jal-Piped-water scheme.

The new scheme of Modi was introduced taking a cue from the schemes of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s piped-water scheme and the popular Har Ghar Nal ka Jal (Piped-water for all houses scheme) of Nitish Kumar rolled out in September 2016. Through the project, Nitish targeted two crore households in the five years under a novel user based piped-water scheme. As a person having worked as a Country Director in an international NGO, which had pioneered a novel way of getting individual water connections to thousands of rural and semi-urban households in India through finance from micro finance institutions. Looking at the huge demand for getting piped-water within the precincts of households, I see Modi’s Nal Se Jal scheme as the harbinger of the innovative development schemes that are expected under Vikas 2.0.

The onus of providing drinking water to households has been that of the central and state governments. Many efforts have been taken by past governments to provide safe water. As per the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) of the WHO and UNICEF, the indicator used to measure progress is the percentage of the population using “safely managed drinking water services”.

Since 2016, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target 6.1 calls for achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, the indicator used to measure progress is the percentage of the population using ‘safely managed drinking water services’ which is defined as the population using an improved drinking water source which is located on premises (or in the vicinity), and available when needed, and free of faecal and priority chemical contamination.

As of now, only around 18% of the rural households have clean water through piped-water facilities while the rest of the households depend on safe water from other JMP approved sources including public standpipe, borehole, protected dug well, protected spring and rainwater collection. As such, India fits into the above definitions and has been showing a good progress over years. The percentage of households with improved source of drinking water in 2015-16 in urban and rural areas were 91.1% and 89.3% respectively. In the absence of piped water in the precincts of the rural households, women and other inmates of the households have to walk to nearby standpipes to fetch water.

Many times I have seen school going girls retained at home to assist their mother. With a focus on rural areas, the new scheme Nal se Jal will have a target of around 20 crore households and the government is focusing on 14 crore households which in itself is a huge number. Added to this, households will be in peri-urban and urban areas.

The critics of this scheme may point out at the additional source of water for the new connections. In such cases, the local authorities will have to work out an augmentation plan to the existing supply. There is optimism in the air as the newly formed Jal Shakti Ministry has plans to augment the supply of safe drinking water by adopting a holistic approach which will include water shed management, rain water harvesting, cleaning up rivers, rain water harvesting and water testing at different points of supply.

As per ‘Study of Assessment of Water Foot Prints of India's Long Term Energy Scenarios- 2017’ by Niti Aayog and TERI Agriculture sector accounts for 88.1% of total water consumption in the country. Domestic sector is the 2nd largest consumer, amounting for 7.7% of total water consumption in the country. Water requirement for energy production is less than 2% of total water requirements. It is gratifying to know from the report that India is generally in the medium level (25 to 50%) of water stress as we have a fairly good network of rivers and bountiful rainfall. The report further predicts per capita increase in water consumption over the years.

The study also states about inter-regional variations in water stress levels and the solution for this can be seen in the river linking scheme announced by the new government.

The Bureau of Indian Standards:1172-1993 has earlier calculated per capita water requirement based on the flushing systems used in households. Taking into consideration the fact that over 10 crore toilets were newly constructed in both rural and urban areas during the last five years through Swachh Bharat and other private initiatives, the requirement of full flushing systems has gone up drastically. This fact has to be borne in mind when arriving at per capita calculations and deciding on overall quantum of water in rural areas and semi-urban areas.

Taking into consideration climate change and the unprecedented heavy downpours that often result in damages to water supply systems resulting in contamination of water, all new water supply systems should take this into consideration and should go for sturdy pipelines and latest plumbing methods to avoid damage to water supply systems. Water stressed areas that are further exacerbated by unpredictable climate changes become vulnerable to extreme water shortages and it is here that the government, private sector and the non-profits have to educate people about what can be called “Water Austerity”. In this context, I like to congratulate Nitish Kumar and his team for introducing a User-fee Based Piped Water system when such User fee-based systems have been stringently opposed in many places across the world. State governments that are inviting controversial foreign water companies to run water supply systems in cities, they should take a lesson from such stellar schemes. After all there is no dearth of brains and manpower in our country to plan and execute any intricate piped network.

Irrigation in India uses up a whopping 89% of the fresh water and where Water Austerity has to be taken up effectively. Farming practices in the country have seldom seen drastic transformation since the green revolution days and needs a close look from a climate change point of view. It is however gratifying to hear that the new government is going to give a push to rain fed agriculture.

Finally, a suggestion to the government before implementing the Nal se Jal scheme. The scheme, if taken up entirely by the government would need a whopping amount from the exchequer. A sense of ownership has to prevail in the minds of the beneficiaries too and to that extent the government can partially subsidise the pipe laying charges, while using the time-tested route of micro finance to meet the rest of the amount in cases where people cannot afford to pay affront. In such cases, the households would ‘own’ the system and would develop a civic sense to maintain the system themselves. The pipes have to be as dedicated as possible without interferences by wire laying works or sanitation pipes in its route.

Nal se Jal scheme can be looked forward to strengthen the famous Modi Mantra of Sabke Saath Sabka Vikas aur Vishwaas (trust through development for all) as water will reach to all households and ensure equitable distribution of safe drinking water. All communities at the grass root will appreciate the presence of a tap for the first time in the precincts of their household.

— P Uday Shankar is aCoimbatore based Green Banking Specialist who focuses mainly in the areas of water and sanitation.

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