Centre’s potable water mission may miss 2024 target

Only three out of four rural households are likely to have drinking water tap connections by 2024, despite promises of 100% coverage; work has not even begun in 5% of homes

July 01, 2023 11:44 pm | Updated July 02, 2023 09:16 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Ukraine war resulted in major shortages of steel and cement, delaying the government’s ambitious Har Ghar Jal initiative. File

The Ukraine war resulted in major shortages of steel and cement, delaying the government’s ambitious Har Ghar Jal initiative. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The government’s ambitious Har Ghar Jal initiative to provide all rural households in India with potable water connections by 2024 under its flagship Jal Jeevan Mission is likely to fall short of its target. Only 75% of village homes are likely to have taps delivering drinking water by April 2024, The Hindu has learnt from multiple sources and an analysis of publicly available data.

Despite the scheme having been announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of Red Fort as part of his Independence Day address in 2019, a time when only 16% of rural households had tap water, officials say that a slew of challenges — such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a dearth of qualified manpower in States, the scale of the exercise, State-specific issues and even the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war — meant that the project only picked up speed in several States in 2022.

“While the pandemic led to delays, the Ukraine war resulted in major shortages of steel and cement, [which are] critical to the manufacture and connection of metal pipes. This led to major price revisions and considerable time was lost in renegotiating contracts and improving supply,” a senior official told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. “There was also a huge problem in many States of not finding enough skilled manpower to make tanks, cisterns and water connections of an acceptable quality. There are States, for instance Rajasthan, where actual availability of water is a challenge. In West Bengal and Kerala, there are problems with water contamination. So ensuring adequate water quality is an issue. It is not enough to just provide a piped connection,” the official added.

Lowered expectations

“We expect about 75% households to be covered by March 2024 and 80% by December. That itself would be a huge achievement,“ the official said.

“Of the nearly 19.5 crore households that are targeted under the scheme, there are about one crore households (5% of the total) where work hasn’t even begun. In every village that already has access to some source of water, it takes an average of eight months to connect all households and this is if they are extremely efficient,” the official said, adding, “In these places, they may not finish even by 2025-26.”

The Jal Jeevan Mission has a financial outlay of ₹3.60 lakh crore, with the Centre funding 50% of the cost and the remainder being borne by States and Union Territories.

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The mission’s stated objective is to provide ‘functional’ tap connections that give at least 55 litres per person per day, of potable or drinking water.So far, according to data on the Jal Shakti Ministry portal, about 63% of rural households have tap connections, meaning that about 9.1 crore households have benefitted from the programme since 2019.

Few certified villages

However, these are figures reported by the States. There is a system of ‘certification’ wherein the gram panchayats in a village which district and block level authorities report as fully connected call a quorum, and upload a video attesting the veracity of the claim. Of the nearly 1,68,000 villages that are reported as ‘Har Ghar Jal’ where all houses have tap water, only 58,357 villages have been so ‘certified’, suggesting that the gap between reported and verified connections is wide.

In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, only 5.1 lakh — or 1% — of households reported tap connections when the scheme was launched. This grew to 32 lakh by August 2021 and then grew slower to 42 lakh by August 2022. In the last 10 months, however, the number of homes with connections has dramatically jumped to 1.3 crore, or about half the total rural households in the State. However, of U.P.’s 98,455 villages, only 13,085 have reported being fully connected and only 2,837 of them have certified themselves. Thus, only about 3% of U.P. villages can be said to be 100% certified as Har Ghar Jal villages.

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In Rajasthan, 11 lakh households had tap connections in 2019, which has risen to about 44 lakh in June 2023. Of its 43,249 villages, only 1,146 are reportedly fully connected, only half of which have been certified so. In West Bengal, where the number of connected households grew from 2.1 lakh to 62 lakh between 2019 and 2023, the number of villages reporting 100% connections are 2,654 or about 6% of the State’s villages. Of these, only about a fourth are certified.

Independent verification

“We upload what the States tell us, on the number of households covered. There are, however, two mechanisms for independent verification. We have an independent audit agency that conducts a survey by preparing a representative sample and interviewing respondents on whether the installed water connections are actually delivering water to their satisfaction. There is also a panel of National WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygeine) experts who appraise a section of villages on the quality of services provided. Their feedback is immediately provided to States and to us,” the official cited earlier told The Hindu.

One such survey was conducted in October 2022, covering 13,303 villages, of which 5,298 were reported as Har Ghar Jal villages and consisting of nearly 300,000 households. It was found that only 62% households had fully functional connections.

Political angle

Of the top 10 States that have reported over 96% of coverage, two — Bihar and Telangana — have zero villages that have certified their connection status. This was because both States did not rely on Central funds for their drinking water supply programmes, the official said.

“After self-certification verification, a ‘Har Ghar Jal’ village (100% compliant) means prominently publicising both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister’s images on posters, if they have used Central funds. Some States don’t want to do that. So there’s an element of politics too. But many of these States are coming around to the wisdom of certification,” the official added.

The Hindu’s questions on this matter to officials in the Jal Shakti Ministry were not answered at the time of going to press.

Only eight States and Union Territories so far have reported all their villages as 100% connected, but nearly all of them were well connected in 2019 itself, according to data on the web portal. Haryana, Gujarat and Punjab – the largest of these States – already had over 50% coverage in 2019.

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