Budget 2023-24: Drinking water supply and sanitation continues to get priority

Budgetary allocations for urban sanitation get an impetus, but Swachh Bharat Mission – Rural (SBM-R) records no change in its budgetary allocation
An amount of Rs 1840 crore has been approved to effecvely implement Water Security Plans through convergence of ongoing/new schemes (Image: Pavitra K B Rao, Wikimedia Commons)
An amount of Rs 1840 crore has been approved to effecvely implement Water Security Plans through convergence of ongoing/new schemes (Image: Pavitra K B Rao, Wikimedia Commons)

Safe water, sanitation and hygiene are pillars that improve the quality of life and enhance the 'ease of living' of people, especially in rural areas. In this regard, the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS) has made significant progress in providing drinking water and safe sanitation to rural households. This is also evident in the 2023-24 budget estimate (BE) of the DDWS, which has seen an increase over the previous year.

Source: Compiled by CBGA from Union Budget Documents, various years

The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) scheme, which was launched on 15th August 2019 to provide Functional Household Tap Water Connections (FHTC) in rural areas and public institutions in villages, has completed five years. It has played a critical role in India's journey towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal – 6 (UNSDG-6), which aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

Following its importance in the sphere of quality of life and 'ease of living', the scheme has once again been prioritised in Union Budget 2023-24, with the Government increasing its allocation by 15 per cent. The rising budgetary allocation for the scheme since 2021-22 indicates that progress in achieving its goal of providing tap water supply to 83 percent of rural households by 2024 has been gradual. As of 2nd February, 2023, the scheme has provided tap water connections to over 11 crore households, achieving an increase in coverage by 57 percent since its inception in 2019.

Further, four States, i.e., Goa, Gujarat, Telangana and Haryana, and three Union Territories (UTs), i.e., Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Dadra Nagar Haveli & Daman Diu, and Puducherry, have become 'Har Ghar Jal' State/ UT, i.e., 100 per cent of the households have tap water supply. Similarly, 121 districts, 1,515 Blocks, 82,071 Gram Panchayats, and more than 1.5 lakh villages have also become 'Har Ghar Jal Block', 'Har Ghar Jal Panchayat', and 'Har Ghar Jal Gaon' respectively.

Further, more than 8.8 lakh schools and 9.1 lakh Anganwadi centres are getting potable piped water supply. While playing a significant role in addressing longstanding health concerns, the JJM also acts as a vital instrument of public health. The priories of the scheme include combating Japanese Encephalitis/Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (JE/AES) in 61 high-priority affected districts and reducing the spread of JE/AES by providing clean tap water to economically poor households in these districts.

As of now, the affected areas have seen households with tap water connections increase 49.4 percent since 2019. With regard to addressing the issue of water quality, 2,076 active laboratories have been made operational as on 1st February, 2023 for water-quality testing, which is an increase of 55 laboratories over the previous year. In terms of capacity building, a total of around 18 6 lakh women have been trained to test water samples using Field Testing Kits (FTK).

Although JJM has a strong sustainability component, the government launched Mission Amrit Sarovar on 24th April 2022 with the objective of conserving water for the future. The Mission follows a 'whole of society' approach, wherein the Ministries of Rural Development, Jal Shakti, Panchayati Raj, and Environment, Forest and Climate Change have cooperated with technical assistance from the Bhaskaracharya National Institute of Space Applications and Geo-Informatics (BISAG-N) with the aim of developing and rejuvenating 75 water bodies in each district during the country's 75th year of independence.

Similarly, a JALDOOT app was launched on 27th September 2022 to measure the water level in a Gram Panchayat through 2-3 selected open wells twice a year 7 (pre-monsoon and post monsoon).

Source: Compiled by CBGA from Union Budget Documents, various years.

Under-utilisation of JJM funds

Despite the substantial progress that the JJM has made over the past four years, there are concerns over underutilisation of funds, as seen in the declining budgetary allocation of 2022-23 Revised Estimates compared to the Budget Estimates for the year. This is a concern, since previously the scheme saw an underutilisation (gap between funds available and utilised) of 44 percent in 2021-22. The extent of utilisation under the scheme also varied across the States in 2021-22, with Tripura utilising 77.4 percent, while Bihar utilised 6.8 percent of its funds. The gaps between the Budget Estimates, Revised Estimates, and Actual expenditure raise questions over the physical performance of the scheme.

Moreover, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report of 2021-22 pointed out that the DDWS had set eight districts from eight States —Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Punjab, Sikkim and Uttarakhand — and two UTs — Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh — as milestones for 2022, wherein the department had aimed to provide water connections in every household over the year. However, Gujarat was the only State that had 100 percent of households with a tap water connection under the scheme. Again, Meghalaya reported that a mere 45 percent of its households were provided with tap water supply under the scheme.

The contrasting figures in terms of infrastructure reflect disparities among the States in terms of effective absorption of budgetary resources. These disparities could stem from administrative and procedural bottlenecks that vary across States, thus highlighting a grave need to address them.

Budgetary allocations for urban sanitation get an impetus while rural sanitation remains stagnant

Urban sanitation has been a neglected area; however, Budget 2023-24 has given it a much-needed impetus, as seen in the almost 54 per cent hike in the allocation for the Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban (SBM-U) over the previous year. Nonetheless, the Swachh Bharat Mission – Rural (SBM-R) records no change in its budgetary allocation compared to the 2022-23 BE. The SBM-R, in its Phase-II, aims to sustain Open Defecation Free (ODF) status and cover all villages with Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) arrangements by 2024- 25 or accredit them as ODF Plus. Despite the looming deadline, however, the budgetary provisions for the scheme do not portray a swift approach towards the achievement of this target, as visible in the stagnant allocations.

Source: Compiled by CBGA from Union Budget Documents, various years.

Additionally, the Revised Estimate under the scheme has declined for five consecutive years since 2018, as well as in 2022-23. The Standing Committee on Water Resources – 2021-22, in its 16 Report, marks the reduction at each stage of the budget as a 'recurrent reduction' and reflects on the under-utilisation of funds under the scheme. It also recommends better planning and coordination among States and implementing agencies for effective utilisation of the resources.

Challenges in implementing SBM (R) Phase 2 and SBM (U) 2.0

As the country enters the second phase of SBM-R, the department faces multiple constraints due to the new interventions for SLWM under phase II. These include a lack of capacity-building of the implementing agencies for effective implementation of SLWM activities. Additionally, there are problems in convergence between departments since 15 Finance Commission funds are to be shared between water and sanitation in a ratio of 50:50. The DDWS also has to ensure better coordination with urban counterparts so that it can access existing resources for plastic sludge management and faecal sludge management.

The finance minister in her 2023-24 Budget Speech, announced that all cities and towns would be enabled for 100 per cent mechanical desludging of septic tanks and sewers to transition from manhole to machine-hole mode. She also added that enhanced focus would be provided for scientific management of dry and wet waste. The enhanced budgetary allocation for SBM (U) in 2023-24 reflects the objective of the announcement.

This comes at a time when the government has banned manual scavenging, despite which the practice still exists — deaths due to manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks continue to occur. The National Action Plan for Mechanised Ecosystem (NAMASTE), which was instituted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in coordination with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, is a step in the right direction. It aims to eliminate manual cleaning of sewer systems and septic tanks and rehabilitate workers engaged in manual cleaning.

However, a mechanism for periodic scrutiny of the Scheme is required as there is a strong need to plug the loopholes affecting the efforts of the Department. Moreover, budgetary allocations meant for the implementation of the scheme should be enhanced instead of reducing them at the revision stage.

To access the full analysis of Union Budget 2023-24 by CBGA click here

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