Standing Committee Report: Safe drinking water and sanitation

The report is scathing and points at many gaps in the planning and implementing process of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) & the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) SBM (G) programmes.
Safe drinking water, a scarce resource Safe drinking water, a scarce resource

The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) and the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) SBM (G) are the two flagship programmes of the government implemented by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, a nodal Ministry responsible for the overall policy, planning, funding and coordination of the programmes.

The fifth report by the 'Standing Committee on Rural Development, Sixteenth Lokasabha, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation' published by the Loksabha Secretariat evaluates the progress made and the bottlenecks experienced in implementing these two programmes in the context of the overall budgetary allocations made in the Demands for Grants for the year.

The report is scathing and points at various gaps and concerns encountered in the process of planning and implementation of the programmes. The discourse in the report is peppered with adjectives such as shocked, surprised and dismayed, and the report is seen to often question the lack of clarity in the planning and implementation of the programmes. This is especially so in terms of the lack of adequate funding allotted to the programmes and the impracticality of covering the huge expanse of the country with safe drinking water and toilets against the low budgetary allocation as well as the lack of clarity on how the remaining funds can be obtained.

In fact, in response to serious concerns over the drastic reduction in the budgetary allocation for the current financial year for both the programmes, the report recommends that the Ministry to approach the NITI Ayog and the Ministry of Finance to ensure allocation of additional funds for the current financial year. What seems striking is the lack of clarity even at the level of the power corridors regarding the Finance Commission's recommendations and the budget's change in sharing pattern.

National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP)

  • Despite large amounts being invested by the Central and State Governments for providing safe and adequate drinking water to the rural population since the First Five Year Plan (1951-56), problems related to quality and quantity of drinking water continue. The Committee thus strongly urges the Ministry to have a serious introspection of the operation and maintenance of the scheme, identify deficiencies and make sincere efforts to ensure access to safe and clean drinking water in rural India.
  • The physical performance of NRDWP has not been encouraging as compared to its financial performance. The Department has not able to come out with any estimation as to the time by which they will be able to cover all the rural households with piped water supply, due to the reduced budgetary allocation in the year 2015-16. The Committee urges the Ministry to engage with state goverments and undertake urgent steps to reach the desired targets.

Water quality testing laboratories

  • In cases where water testing laboratories have been established, they suffer from paucity of technical manpower, qualified personnel and equipments. The Committee points out that the setting up of water quality testing laboratories and making them fully functional has not been accorded due priority. They strongly recommend that the Government take urgent steps to provide adequate technical manpower as well as all modern equipments to these testing laboratories.
  • It urges the Goverment to set in motion the process of opening new water testing laboratories at all places that do not have them at present. The Committee recommends that efforts also need to be made to accredit all such labs by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).

Water quality in rural areas

  • The Committee observes that arsenic, fluoride, iron and nitrate contamination along with problems of salinity are increasing in a large number of rural districts and calls for the Ministry to undertake urgent remedial measures to address the problems of water quality. The Committee argues that piped water supply is the only solution to tackle water quality problems and therefore to undertake a time-bound plan to achieve this target.
  • It also points at the need to provide an alternate supply of clean water by way of installing Reverse Osmosis (RO) system or Community Water Purification Plants in households that lack piped water till the piped water supply reaches them.

Human Resource Development (HRD) activities

The report comments on the need to improve human resources, especially in the context of finding appropriate personnel to establish water testing laboratories in all the states and the need to identify organisations as National Key Resource Centres (KRCs) in different areas of the country to impart training to a large number of people, which will go a long way in creating knowledge and building capacity in this sector.

Swacch Bharat Mission SBM (G)

  • The report points at the gaps in data in the context of  SBM and at the need to have continuous data monitoring systems in place at the state levels so that effective future planning for provision of sanitation facilities can be made by the Government.
  • The Committee is critical of the inadequate budget allotted to the SBM (G) as well as the lack of clarity on the funding patterns of the mission. It urges the Ministry to vigorously pursue the matter with the Ministry of Finance and other stake holders for finalisation of the system of funding pattern, setting up of Swachh Bharat Kosh and getting clarity on various other issues of the Scheme.
  • The report identifies a number of factors affecting the poor physical performance of SBM such as funding availability, lower prioritisation of the programme by the state governments, inadequate implementation structures, inadequate capacity at the grass root level, lack of behavioural change and poor demand generation. The Committee argues for the need to give priority to behavioural change among rural populations, so that the demand to construct the toilets from the rural households is generated.

Unspent Balances

The report is critical of the substantial unspent balances observed under the National Rural Drinking Water Supply Programme (NRDWP) and the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) (SBM-G), and notes that this problem is more prominent in certain states than others, in spite of the massive efforts being made. The Committee, therefore, strongly recommends that the Ministry should work with state governments and all other stake holders for optimum utilisation of allocated funds and to achieve the desired targets.

Please download the complete report below.

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