Beyond targets: Ensuring sustainable water access after the Jal Jeevan Mission
Good governance is key to sustaining rural drinking water schemes in India
2 Sep 2023
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Jal Jeevan Mission, is envisioned to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in rural areas (Image: McKay Savage; Flickr Commons; CC BY 2.0)

The Jal Jeevan Mission is in its final year, with a target to provide a functional household tap to every household by 2024. As of August 2023, 67% of households had been provided with a tap connection. However, approximately six crore households, accounting for 33%, are still awaiting a tap connection providing a 55-lpcd service.

It is very likely that all the required infrastructure will be in place by the end of next year. But as we progress from this point, it is necessary to think of the future to avoid past mistakes. In this article, we will see what the main challenge is after the Jal Jeevan Mission and what changes are needed.

Slippage: a challenge in the past and present

According to a study by IRC (Reddy, 2010), by the end of 11 the five-year plan under the former planning commission, India had invested around INR 60,000 crore in water and sanitation. This investment resulted in 3.7 million handpumps and 1.73 lakh drinking water schemes. In 2008, overall slippage at the national level reached 30%, i.e., habitations either slipped back to partially covered (PC), not covered (NC), or no safe source (NSS). In Andhra Pradesh alone, 24,654 habitations experienced a slip-back, reverting to partially covered (PC), not covered (NC), or no safe source (NSS) categories between 2001 and 2010.

Similarly, as per a study conducted by TISS to assess the status of rural drinking water in Maharashtra, of the 187 habitations in 48 sample GPs, as per the IMIS data in 2015, there were 89.7% fully covered and 10.3% partially covered habitations, and no habitation was reported uncovered. However, in the field study, it was found that only 70.5% of habitations were fully covered, 23.3% of habitations were partially covered, and 6.2% of habitations were not covered.

On average, around 140,000 fully covered habitations slipped back to partially covered or quality-affected habitation status annually from 2009–16 (MDWS, 2016).

Recognizing this lesson from these past programs, it's crucial to address the challenge of slippage to ensure the success of the current mission. Maintaining the overall sustainability of schemes should be the focus now.

Reasons for slip-back

Slippage is influenced by a range of factors such as geohydrology, agro-climatic, socio-economic, and water governance (Reddy, 2010).

In 2008, the Government of India recognized six reasons responsible for slippages: drying up of the source, quality, quantity, population, O&M expenditure, and the life of the source being outlived (GoI, 2008).

In 2016, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation pinpointed excessive reliance on groundwater for rural water supply projects, unregulated extraction of groundwater for irrigation, unmanaged contamination of surface water, unpredictable rainfall patterns, natural disasters, and irregular or unavailable power supply as the primary causes behind this slippage. Inadequate operation and maintenance practices also contribute significantly to this issue.

The ministry recommended state governments switch to safe and sustainable surface water sources to avoid, if not completely eliminate, the problem of slippage (MDWS, 2016).

Planning trends under JJM

Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, priority has been given to groundwater-based schemes to provide tap connections. Operational guidelines clearly state that only those water supply sources that are sustainable and economically most feasible (considering the life cycle cost) should be selected.

At the start of JJM, there were 6.35 million groundwater-based and 0.13 million surface water-based schemes, covering 1.9 million and 0.31 million habitations, respectively. Generally, single-village schemes are groundwater-based. As a low-hanging fruit strategy, retrofitting of existing and ongoing schemes was undertaken for the first two years of JJM (JJM Operational Guidelines, 2019).

The table below shows the planning trend during the first two years of JJM planning in seven states.

In each state, the FHTCs provided by SVS are significant in number. Of the total retrofitting schemes, 96% are SVS, providing water to 66% of the total planned FHTC in the year. Under the new schemes, 92% are SVS, covering 76% of the FHTCs planned. It is highly likely that reliance on groundwater-based schemes has continued under JJM because it is the most economically feasible water source available. 2016 recommendations seem to have had little effect on the planning of JJM. The overall trend in the first year of planning under JJM is to opt for groundwater-based SVS to achieve the FHTC target. MVS is preferred in quality-affected regions such as Bihar or where sustainable sources are unavailable, like in Karnataka.

Clearly, this trend is not in line with the recommendations of the Ministry in 2016 to avoid slippage by transitioning to surface water sources. This again increases the chances of slippage under the Jal Jeevan Mission as well. 

Required policy focus

Good governance of water resources and structures is the key to sustaining India’s rural drinking water sector investments.

To avoid slip-back, the focus of the government has been on supply-side measures such as providing rainwater harvesting structures, the revival of traditional sources, retrofitting, rejuvenation of outlived schemes, providing regional schemes from safe surface water sources, source strengthening, and convergence for watershed development. These are necessary but not sufficient for sustainable water resources (Reddy, 2010). Though switching to surface water sources is an easy option, they are not immune to slippage if water governance is neglected, and they come with limitations such as geographical access and high costs.

We need to have a robust regulatory framework in place; without it, all the benefits of these measures taken to avoid slipback can go in vain. For example, the moment groundwater levels rise due to recharge, water-intensive cash crops can jeopardize water security in the region. Or there can be theft from regional surface water schemes to sustain crops or any other enterprise. A climate-induced competition between agriculture and drinking water can affect the availability of water for water supply schemes, even with a safe source such as dams.

A comprehensive regulation of the water sector and a change in water-allied policies would go a long way toward sustaining our water sources and, in turn, rural drinking water supply schemes. Rural drinking water planning should consider the above scenarios at the planning stage. To avoid a back-to-square-one situation, it is high time to bring in a paradigm shift in our approach to managing water resources.

Another governance issue that affects the most is poor operation and management, which is basically a governance issue. Government data in 2008 shows that O&M appeared to be the reason for slippage in only close to 1% of schemes. This is surprising, as GPs have lacked funds to operate schemes across India. In 2008, the World Bank estimated that the annual O&M cost was over INR 1,000 crore as against the availability of INR 250 crore (Reddy, 2010).

The current situation is similar, as GPs struggle to recover water tariffs and O&M costs are deducted through state finance commission grants meant for other development purposes. We have to address the issue of water tariff collection. It is necessary to identify an appropriate governance structure at the village for service delivery, develop systems for the capacity enhancement of the community, and have the necessary stewardship (Reddy, 2010).

Also, now that we have retrofitted, planned, and implemented more single village schemes, the community is going to need long-term support in managing these structures. Now is the time to think about whether to recognize the efforts of other stakeholders, such as government departments and NGOs, in supporting water supply schemes and make them equally accountable by changing the discourse from community-managed to co-production of services so that innovative solutions to sustain the schemes can be developed (Hutchings, 2018).

Overall, policy should focus on having a robust regulatory mechanism, a synergy between various departments dealing with water, comprehensive rural water planning, community participation and capacity development, and innovations in the sector.


Slippage has been a challenge to the rural drinking water sector in India. This may emerge due to overreliance on single village schemes based on groundwater and O&M challenges. The final stage of slippage is when schemes fail. We must recognize the importance of good governance to sustain water resources and structures. Providing more and more infrastructure won’t solve the problem of water scarcity; it will require community participation for good management of resources.

Climate change can induce unwanted competition between sectors and affect drinking water security. To protect the drinking water sector from other sectors, it is necessary to have regulatory mechanisms in place. Also, we can think of accepting new discourses such as the co-production of drinking water services to give equal credit to other stakeholders and open avenues for innovations in the sector.


Author: Adarsh Dalavi is a water professional active in the WASH and WRM sectors. Email:

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