There is a myriad of government schemes and programmes working towards improving water access across the country. Tracking all these initiatives can be cumbersome. The priority that the centre and the states accord to various sectors through the budgetary allocations gives an idea about where the government’s priorities really lie. Allocation examined with the corresponding expenditure and service delivery charge collection gives insights on operational status and end-user ownership of a specific programme.
Gujarat, a water-stressed state prone to chronic droughts has a robust industrial presence contributing significantly to its gross domestic product (GDP). The state’s relatively high prosperity gives it sufficient elbow room to spend more on social and economic services.
Drinking water is a part of social services under the budgetary considerations in our country. Less emphasis on it hampers the social development and in turn economic empowerment of the state. Sunderrajan Krishnan, Executive Director, INREM Foundation bolsters this point when he says “there is an enormous potential for the water issues to create sustainable jobs and boost the economy.”
Water is also a public issue that touches the life of a common person in a big way. Government data affirms that about half of India’s population lacks access to tap water connections at the household level (Jal Jeevan Mission Dashboard accessed on Feb 25, 2022). It is high time that no individual is left without water coverage.
Lack of access to quality water leads to health issues and affects the quality of life and productivity of a person. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has included drinking water as one of its goals and set the target of achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030. The goal cannot be met until the money is put where the mouth is.
Solving water issues needs priority on the part of the government, creativity and a sense of urgency from those who are directly part of the service delivery along with cooperation and participation on the part of end-users. It also needs financial resources on time and in sufficient amount to meet the demand by creating water infrastructure and putting in place systems for operation, maintenance and sustainability.
Our National Water Policy states that “the Centre, the States and the local bodies (governance institutions) must ensure access to a minimum quantity of potable water for essential health and hygiene to all its citizens, available within easy reach of the household”. Jal Jeevan Mission, a flagship scheme of the Government of India has set an ambitious target of providing every household across India with potable water in adequate quantity and regular manner by the year 2024.
National Water Policy also talks about giving necessary attention to vulnerable groups like tribals while working on drinking water. Making this a reality has been elusive and challenging. The majority of the tribal areas are remote with hilly undulating terrain often with limited connectivity. Though Gujarat has relatively better approach road connectivity even in tribal areas, these areas have a scattered habitation pattern. Making water available to these areas becomes a daunting task as a result. As in previous years, installing a handpump or a drinking water stand post is inadequate and the present scenario demands the need for tap connection at the household level.
Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojna (VKY), a much-publicised scheme of the Government of Gujarat aimed at tribal communities was kicked off in 2007. The scheme is also known as the Chief Minister’s ten-point programme and outlines the provision of safe drinking water to all as one of the ten components.
A study by AKRSP(I) done with the help of Pathey looks at budgetary trends and analyses key metrics to find out whether drinking water as a sector and tribal community as an end-user are getting enough attention from the Government of Gujarat. The report based on an analysis of the budgetary documents from FY 2014-15 till 2020-21 concludes that indeed the drinking water sector and the community has been a focus for the government.
The table below provides a snapshot of public expenditure on water supply and sanitation:
Table 1: Public Expenditure on Water Supplies in Gujarat
Data for the last seven years from FY 2014-15 to FY 2020-21 (in Table 1) illustrates that water supply and sanitation as a total of the state budget ranges from 2% to 2.45% which can be considered to be a decent allocation. It also confirms that expenditure for water supplies has ranged between 1.97% -2.23% compared to the state’s total expenditure which can be taken as a fair percentage range.
A look at the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) of Gujarat state gives insights into the state’s priority areas for tribal development. The state has faced backlash for its under allocation for tribal welfare as manifested in the percentage budget expenditure for TSP compared to the total state expenditure shown in Table 1.
Table 2: Budget Outlay for Water Supply under Tribal Sub Plan
However, if we scrutinize the tribal component of the budget in a standalone manner, the trends are encouraging. The analysis of the Tribal Sub Plan of the state shows that the expenditure on water supplies has hovered between 6% and 11% of the total budget which is significant. Exceptional budgetary expenditure in 2017-18 may be attributed to the state assembly election.
It is heartening to note that the expenditure on augmenting drinking water capacity has been above 100% from FY 2016-17 to FY 2018-19. Overall details of the water and sanitation allocation and corresponding expenditure from FY 2014-15 to FY 2020-21 has been shown in the table below:
Comparatively low budgetary allocation of Rs. 883 Crores may be attributed to the earlier performance which has been well below the budgetary outlay of Rs. 1455 Crores. Less than expected revenue generation and slow pace of execution of the programmes may be speculated to be the reason behind the underperformance.
The graphic representation of BE and Accounts is shown in the figure below:
Figure 1: Budget for Water and Sanitation for Tribal Areas
The present status at the Jal Jeevan Mission dashboard gives an encouraging picture of the coverage of tribal areas, yet the majority of the tribal areas still lack access. Dahod is one such example. At the same time, Dang can be taken as a successful example of 100% completion.
Care has to be taken that coverage does not mean that things are absolutely fine at every level and in every aspect. Operational guidelines of Jal Jeevan Mission acknowledges that there are major challenges when it comes to operation and maintenance. Water user charge collection is still a distant dream.
The proverb ‘early bird gets the worm’ appears to be true in the case of Gujarat which has given budgetary priority to drinking water for the last several years and the actual expenditure has stood on an average of over 2% of the total state expenditure. As a result, Gujarat stands among the best performing states with over 92% of households having tap water connections. Its neighbouring states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have to catch up a lot on the drinking water front to reach this level.
Needless to say that a realistically assessed need of the quantum of water issue should precede the budgetary allocation. It seems to have happened in the case of the tribal Gujarat region given its minor difference in BE and RE for the period of our analysis except for the year 2019-20.
Translating budgetary outlays into actual expenditure will only move the needle. Tribal regions have seen money allocated and schemes planned often but much remains to be realized when it comes to money utilized and schemes implemented. These are challenges worth pursuing development practitioners and governments alike. Looking at the actual expenditure against the Budget Estimate of Gujarat for water supply in tribal areas, it can be inferred that the focus is at the right place and has borne fruit. Except FY 2019-20, actual expenditure has always been above 90% and has gone exceptionally high at 128% in FY 2017-18.
There should be no room for complacency as Gujarat is on the way to achieving the target of 100% tap water connection for every household. Projections of the United Nations and our own government have warned that climate change is going to aggravate water-related issues. The rise in temperature will increase sea levels and wreak havoc on groundwater and surface water resulting in water-related disasters. Experts recommend the need for source strengthening and sustainability. This will require political commitment and community participation along with ample budgetary support to make it a reality.
Budget allocation should also accompany ways to mobilise resources to support existing water-related interventions. National Water Policy rightly highlights partnerships with private players and different aspects of water pricing. The ongoing Jal Jeevan Mission programme has also stressed on the need for water user charges. This has remained a distant reality that needs the attention of the state. However, water pricing in tribal areas of Gujarat (or in any tribal area for that matter) would remain a juggling act and the state has to take into consideration the relevant factors.
Gujarat is going to present the budget for FY 2022-23 in the coming days and it is expected that the drinking water keeps getting priority to place the state at the forefront of the drinking water secure states.
The present article is part of a series of articles developed on the theme of water budget nexus keeping tribal areas of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in focus. The series draws from the study done by Pathey for AKRSP(I).