Jairam: State governments free to impose nominal levy

Will the rural population have to pay user charge on water? The day might not be far off given the eagerness shown for such a levy by most of the State ministers who attended two-day deliberations that chalked out the action plan for drinking water and sanitation for 2012-13.

Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, who chaired the deliberations, said on Friday that most States favoured a user charge and he concurred with them. But the rider is that the Centre cannot impose the levy though the States are free to do so.

Mr. Ramesh said rural families were actually willing to bear a nominal user charge but it was politics that came in the way. “It is politicians who say that the people should get water free of cost.”

Gadchiroli model

He proposed the Gadchiroli panchayat (Maharashtra) model where a token Re. 1 is charged each day. He told the States that the money would go to the panchayats as in Gadchiroli.

In a bid to bridge disparity in water consumption norms loaded in favour of the urban population where every one is allowed 135 litres per day of piped water supply, the Centre has decided to raise the level in rural areas from 40 litres to 55 litres a day per person and an additional 30 litres per head of cattle in desert areas.

Piped water supply would be ensured to 90 per cent of the rural population by 2022 as a matter of constitutional right, the meeting resolved. Only 35 per cent of the rural population have taps but not necessarily as a functional source for water. The situation in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is pretty bad with only 10 per cent population having taps in their house — most of them dry. States such as Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are the best performers with 80 per cent of population covered under piped water supply. Maharashtra follows suit with 60 per cent of its rural population getting piped water.

A technical committee will be set up to study salinity problem in the coastal region and find a solution. Similarly, 362 border blocks in 17 States with an international border will be provided with a special package on the lines of the one provided in the left-wing extremist-affected districts.

As for sanitation, most of the northern States sought at least 10 more years for total cleanliness in the villages and to put an end to the practice of open defecation. Bihar, as a matter of fact sought more time, but the outer timeline has been set at 2022.

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