India has a known history of water scarcity, droughts, and also, waterborne diseases. Various efforts have been made to address issues related to drinking water from the government side. The latest addition to this list is an ambitious Jal Jeevan Mission executed by the Ministry of Jal Shakti. The mission aims to provide tap water supply to every household in India by 2024. The ambitious scheme relates to water security for individuals and households and Sustainable Development Goals. This article tries to examine the performance of the Jal Jeevan Mission (Rural)
India, the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion population owns only roughly 4% of the world’s total freshwater. Given the fact, India is counted among the most water-stressed countries in the world. Water is a precious commodity in India given the scorching summers, disastrous draughts and floods with fury. A UNICEF report also claims that two-thirds out of 712 districts in India are affected by extreme water depletion. Also, According to the 2011 Census, 29 per cent of households lacked access to drinking water facilities.
Along with the water scarcity, the issue is also of water safety. More than 37 million people are affected by waterborne diseases annually. Most of these diseases are caused by the consumption of non-potable water. India has to bear an annual burden of almost 600 million USD of waterborne illnesses. Thus, water has been a critical issue for almost every Indian livelihood since independence.
Jal Jeevan Mission, launched in 2019, is one of the steps taken to solve these twin problems of water scarcity and safety. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the programme from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August 2019. The programme was bifurcated into the Jal Jeevan Mission (Rural) and Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced JJM (Urban) in her budget speech in 2021. PM Modi mentioned the progress of the Jal Jeevan Mission in his recent Independence Day Speech in 2023. With his remarks, Jal Jeevan Mission has been in discussions again.
Aims and Objectives of the Programme
The programme envisages that every rural Indian household gets a functional tapwater connection (FHTC) by 2024. Along with that, every individual shall get 55 litres of water daily through FHTC. Also, it aims to ensure that there is ‘source sustainability’ to ensure that there is a continuous water supply. The element of source sustainability in the Jal Jeevan Mission is aimed at the recharge and reuse of through grey water (polluted) management, rejuvenation of dead supplies and rainwater harvesting.
The JJM is being implemented using a ‘bottom up’, decentralised approach. One of the mission objectives reads as “GPs/ rural communities to plan, implement, manage, own, operate and maintain their in-village water supply systems.”
With these aims and objectives mission has been working for the last four years. As a year or less remains to achieve the target of ‘Har Ghar Jal’, it would be appropriate to take into account the progress made by the JJM, the challenges it has and the futuristic solutions.
The Progress made by Jal Jeevan Mission
- Increased Access to the Water: According to a report submitted to the Lok Sabha at the end of 2022, at the time of the announcement of the Jal Jeevan Mission, 3.23 Crore (17%) households were reported to have tap water connections. Out of 19.36 Crore rural households in the country, around 10.71 Crore (55%) households are reported to have tap water supply in their homes at the end of December 2022 and the remaining 8.65 Crore rural households are planned to be covered by 2024.
- A Step Towards Participatory Water Governance at the Local Level: The operational guidelines of the JJM indicate that Jal Jeevan Mission is a decentralized, demand-driven, community-managed programme. To build these types of implementation mechanisms, Pani Samitis or Village Water and Sanitation Committees, a subcommittee of Gram Panchayat has to be formed in every village. This committee will be responsible and accountable for making decisions regarding the management of the village water supply.
Apart from these Samitis, a community contribution of 5% of the capital cost towards in-village water supply infrastructure in hilly, forested villages having more than 50% of SC/ST populations and 10% in the remaining villages. This provision has been made to incorporate the ‘sense of ownership amongst the local communities.
Communities will be rewarded by providing 10% of the in-village infrastructure cost of the scheme after successful implementation of the scheme, as a revolving fund to meet any unforeseen expenditure due to breakdown, etc. for the long-term sustainability of the schemes.
- Jal Jeevan Mission and Women Empowerment: Women have been assigned a pivotal role in the implementation of the mission. Proximity to water saves women time in arranging water for families every day. Also, the evidence from developing countries suggests that in countries with significant gender gaps, the enrollment of both boys and girls increases.
Noting this factor, the operational guidelines of JJM mandate that a minimum of 50% of members of Village Water and Sanitation Committees shall be women. Many stories of how Jal Jeevan Mission has changed the lives of women are out. The impact seems to cut across the regional geographies from plateaus of South Western Karnataka to parts of Ladakh.
The tap water connection has allowed women to take up remunerative and productive work in the village economy apart from traditional agricultural labour. Also, many women have participated in testing the quality of water from time to time, collecting water fees and community contributions.
- Reducing Social Stratification based on the Access to Water: Traditional water reservoirs in villages used to suffer from exclusive caste ownership. Though Article 15 of the Indian Constitution banned such discrimination in accessing public wells and tanks, the practice of denying access to water for Dalits and other developing castes continues in many parts of India.
Jal Jeevan Mission tries to ensure that this social evil stops with universal access to tap water in every rural household. Also, Pani Samitis have to ensure that there is a proportional representation of developing castes in decisions regarding water supply management.
Thus, Jal Jeevan Mission is not just for ensuring water security, but its multiplier impacts are also related to the social, economic and educational status of various sections of the society. Despite these, there are several challenges in the formation and implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission. Most of these challenges are similar to the earlier piped water supply schemes such as the National Rural Drinking Water Mission and others.
- Problem of Slipping Back: Slippage has been a traditional challenge to the water supply schemes in India. Participants in the scheme fall back into not having an adequate and safe supply of tap water. This problem was also reported by the 2018 CAG Audit report of the NDWP programme.
The report mentioned that nearly 4.76 lakh habitations earlier covered by the programme slipped back to the status of partially covered or ‘no safe source’ category. Ensuring sustainability and safety of the supply of water to every household is the major challenge in front of the Jal Jeevan Mission.
- Sustainability of Sources of Water: The problem of slipping back also accounts for the unsustainability of sources of water. India is a leading country in exploiting groundwater. The share of groundwater in irrigation is around 70%. In the post-Green Revolution era and Post-liberalisation era, there has been a trend to claim ownership of water under one’s own land.
Borewells and private handpumps have sprung up across the country. This has created severe water stress in the Green Revolution states.
In Jal Jeevan Mission as well, the emphasis so far to supply tap water has been on the ground water-based resources. There has been partial progress in adapting Rain Water Harvesting Systems in rural areas and rejuvenating dead reservoirs. More awareness about rainwater harvesting is needed.
- Polluted Sources of Water: Large parts of water reservoirs in India are severely polluted, both from natural as well as anthropogenic causes. It is estimated that 70% of surface water in India is unfit for consumption. Finding pollution-free water sources is a major challenge. Also, the problem becomes more acute in the case of regions like the Himalayas and Western Ghats where villages are dependent on a single source of water- springs. The Mission needs to take into account source augmentation and source management in these difficult geographies.
- Problems of Water Governance: Along with the issue of sustainable and safe resources, one of the major challenges is the poor operation and management of water resources. Water theft from the Regional Surface Irrigation Schemes, damages made to pipelines because of local political and social rivalries, and overexploitation of groundwater are the key issues that need to be addressed by the Jal Jeevan Mission.
A recent instance at Lahuria Dah, a village in Mirzapur District of Uttar Pradesh shows the magnanimity of these problems. Lahuria Dah had got water connection under the Jal Jeevan Mission this year. However, miscreants damaged the pipeline supplying water to the village leaving the water problem back to the one. Such instances are frequent and pose a serious challenge to the implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission.
Marching Ahead and Way Forward
To face the challenges mentioned above, a comprehensive regulatory framework for water governance is needed. Along with the framework at the national level, the Mission needs to also think about having local solutions to problems arising due to differences in the patterns of settlements, different topographies, distance from the water source etc. For example, regions like Assam have water availability but during the annual floods of Brahmaputra, the problem of drinking water persists as handpumps also stop working. The localised approaches have to depart from the ‘one size fits all ’ approach.
Also, apart from the ensuring supply of tap water to every household, there is a need to pay attention to the water use cycles for irrigation. There is explicit competition for the allocation of water for drinking and irrigation purposes. Water-guzzling crop patterns like Wheat-Paddy-Sugarcane need to be changed especially in the Green Revolution states of Punjab and Haryana. To produce 1kg paddy, 2500-3000 litres of water is needed. To change this pattern, incentives shall be given to farmers to shift to water-saving crops like millet.
An example from the agriculture sector proves that delivering tap water to every rural household has not only to consider the goal of tail-end delivery but also support this micro goal with macro change in the water usage pattern in agriculture as well as in the industry and households. Only then, the objective of the mission to have a sustainable supply of tap water can be achieved in the long run.
The Jal Jeevan Mission in the last four years has moved forward the lives of millions in many ways. Despite the laudable goal of achieving a tapwater connection to every rural household by 2024, 40% of rural households out of the total target are yet to have tap connections. It’s difficult to cover this gap within the span of less than one year.
The Jal Jeevan Mission will be considered successful only when it ensures that there is a sustainable supply of clean and safe tap water beyond 2024 as well. A comprehensive water governance framework that can diversified with reference to local conditions and needs shall be created for implementation purposes. It has to also consider the changing contexts of sustainable water resources in terms of climate change.
The implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission, thus, shall not be limited to the tail-end supply of tap water. Water is not only a basic need but also it is a fundamental element of human security ensuring the dignity of the individual. Ensuring water security is also part of Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the United Nations. Thus, the Jal Jeevan Mission needs to work in this direction to ensure a safe, regular, clean and sustainable water supply to every household in the coming years.
- Alakshendra Abhinav, Kumar Arjun, Mehta Simi (2020). Interlinkages between Urbanization and Climate Change: Identifying and Understanding the Challenges and the Prospects. Journal of Regional and City Planning vol. 31, no. 3, page. 285-300, December 2020 https://www.academia.edu/download/99507850/5005.pdf
Chaitanya is a Research Intern at IMPRI
Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Aasthaba and Aqsa for their kind comments and suggestions to improve the article
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.
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