New policy framework for rural drinking water supply: Swajaldhara guidelines – An article by Philippe Cullet in Economic and Political Weekly
This article by Philippe Cullet in the Economic and Political Weekly discusses the central government policy for drinking water supply in rural areas
11 Apr 2011

It examines its evolution from the 1970s onwards and focuses, in particular, on the reforms of the past decade, looking more specifically at the Swajaldhara Guidelines. These reforms are of capital importance because they seek to completely change the rural drinking water supply policy framework.

It argues that such policies need to be reversed because water is far too fundamental for human life. The imposition of operation and maintenance costs on rural communities does not seem to be based on rational justifications. In a situation where the government is unable to muster the necessary resources for operation and maintenance, it is highly unlikely that rural communities will be able to take on the job and do better than the government. If at all they do better than the government, it will be out of desperation because nobody can survive without water. The implication will be that other vital needs will suffer since this will likely imply a transfer of resources within already tight budgets.

On the whole, ongoing reforms need to be thought afresh because they do not primarily ensure a better realisation of the human right to water for the poorest people with least access to water, and only partially, implement the constitutional framework for decentralised democratic governance.

Additionally, the replacement of social equity as a premise for drinking water supply policy with economic efficiency neither ensures that the poorest and socially most disadvantaged individuals in a given village are preferentially targeted nor that the regions of any individual state that need special attention for hydrological or social reasons are preferentially targeted.

Whereas the “old” framework has been in need of changes to ensure better delivery of what the government seeks to achieve, ongoing reforms do not appear to be the answer that will effectively address the needs of the poorest and most marginalised.

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