On March 16, 2017, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India began a performance audit of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) by discussing with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation the scope and methodology of the performance audit. Records relating to the implementation of the programme in 27 states for the five-year period (2012 to 2017) were examined. The performance audit report for India got tabled in the Parliament on August 7, 2018.
In this article, we pick up Rajasthan state to present the performance audit findings which are contained in a recently tabled CAG audit report on Rajasthan (General and Social Sector). This performance audit takes a close look at the state of drinking water supply in Rajasthan and the functioning of the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). This article offers a quick analysis of major audit findings.
No plans, no performance
Rajasthan adopted a State Water Policy (SWP) in the year 2010, following which a State Water Resources Planning Department was constituted for its implementation envisaging convergence of 17 departments including the PHED. The PHED was also tasked with evolving long-term and perspective plans from drinking water supply management. Further as per paragraphs 14 and 15.1 of the guidelines of the NRDWP, the state was also required to prepare a State Specific Sector Policy Framework and a five-year comprehensive water security plan. The CAG auditors found during the audit scrutiny that neither did the PHED prepare comprehensive plans nor did it prepare perspective plans. The CAG observes that “as a result, the SWP couldn’t get translated into actionable goals and targets”. The performance audit of the NRDWP states that “in Rajasthan, though the State Specific Water Sector Policy Framework was stated to have been prepared, it was not made available to CAG auditors” (p. 07).
Such hurdles in access to records and information during the course of the audit by constitutional audit agency is a major concern. It is ironic that what any citizen in Rajasthan could demand under the Right to Information Act was kept hidden from the CAG auditors’ scrutiny.
Similarly, the CAG auditors state that in compliance with the Asian Development Bank loan agreement executed for policy reform matrix, the state was supposed to prepare an Urban Water Policy. Audit scrutiny revealed that while draft Urban Water Policy was prepared by Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project (RUIDP) in 2015, this draft policy was not finalised by the PHED as of June 2017. Thus the CAG observes that “no drinking water policy was in place for the urban population living in 297 towns/cities of the state”.
Lack of available information a challenge
The CAG auditors criticised the director (Water and Sanitation Support Organisation) and the chief engineer (CE-Rural) for failing to cooperate with the audit since they failed to provide any details about the number of Village Water Security Plans (VWSPs) prepared by four consultancy firms. During the audit scrutiny, the CAG officials had come across the information that in August 2010, CE (Rural) had awarded work for the preparation of VWSPs including Detailed Project Reports (DPR) for 5455 villages to four consultancy firms for Rs 12.74 crores and these consultancy firms had to hand over VWSPs and DPRs in three months’ time. However, during the field audit in eight test-checked districts, auditors didn’t come across any VWSPs. The CAG auditors have also raised concern that even after the lapse of seven years, District Water and Sanitation Missions (DWSM) and Block Resource Centres (BRC) were not formed. They remarked that in the absence of Village Water and Sanitation Committees, BRCs and DWSMs, community participation in preparing Annual Action Plan was not achieved.
The CAG auditors also indicted the state for having failed to make State Water and Sanitation Mission (SWSM) operational. They observed that only one meeting of the executive committee of the SWSM was held on August 8, 2016, which didn’t discuss any issues related to the implementation of the NRDWP.
The CAG auditors were also shocked to observe that the database of urban and rural areas was not updated as per Census 2011, leading to incorrect demand projections. They also observed that the PHED didn’t have a consolidated data of current and future demand of drinking water supply for the entire state.
Incomplete drinking water schemes
The CAG auditors observed that as of March 2017, there were 54 major drinking water supply projects and 437 rural water supply schemes that were at various stages of completion. The audit scrutiny revealed various deficiencies in the implementation of the schemes (for details see page 63 to 72 of the audit report). The CAG auditors found out that 37 out of 54 major drinking water supply projects and 119 out of 437 rural water supply schemes could not be completed within the stipulated time. Various reasons plagued the timely completion of water supply schemes including the delay in taking possession of the land, delay in obtaining necessary approvals from the authorities, slow progress of contractors, delays by the PHED in giving contracts etc.
The CAG auditors pointed out that Rajasthan accounted for the highest amount of cuts and reduced central share (Rs 398.53 crores) imposed by the union ministry for reasons such as late receipt of the proposal, less release of state’s share and excess expenditure on operation and maintenance. The audit scrutiny also found substantial unutilised funds under the Desert Development Programme in Rajasthan (Rs 105.17 crore) as on March 2017.
The CAG auditors also highlighted that “urban water supply projects were not designed to meet the requirements of 30 years period after their completion”.
To address such implementation deficiencies, the CAG auditors recommended the PHED to evolve a separate system to coordinate and monitor with various external ministries/ departments/ authorities so that the process of obtaining land clearances/ titles and statutory clearances is streamlined and expedited.
The CAG auditors observed that Rajasthan has 20643 habitations (27.63 percent of the country figure) where the quality of drinking water is a major concern. Auditors were shocked to learn that 57 Reverse Osmosis plants installed at the cost of Rs 15.45 crore in several quality-affected habitations in Jaisalmer and Bikaner districts were not functional due to the absence of maintenance, though the terms of the contract included maintenance for seven years.
The CAG auditors also termed the state government’s Jalamani programme, which aimed to provide quality drinking water to schools, as unsuccessful. They observed that the programme had resulted in the wasteful expenditure of Rs 0.95 crore besides non-utilisation of the allocated Rs 5.93 crore. Auditors noticed that in 10 selected districts, drinking water facility was available in only 1049 out of 2903 schools as of April 2012 leaving 1854 schools uncovered as of March 2017. CAG auditors also shockingly observed that no school was covered under this programme during 2015-17 in four test-checked districts, despite 866 schools not having drinking water facilities as of April 2015.
Field audit and joint inspections revealed that the state and district laboratories were not equipped with the required capability/ equipment/ manpower to conduct all the prescribed tests. Audit scrutiny of records showed that during 2014-17, in 65.31 percent habitations not a single water source was tested. Another shocking revelation was that the number of habitations where all water sources were tested was a meager 1.17 percent.
The CAG indicted the PHED for failing to provide the required space and infrastructure facilities for Block Level Laboratories in time, which resulted in delays ranging from eight to 18 months in the establishment of 165 laboratories and remaining 68 laboratories not being established.
The CAG indicted the PHED sharply by reminding that “the position of inadequacy in laboratory infrastructure, insufficient testing of water samples and shortfall in conducting sanitary survey for water sources continued despite being pointed out in a previous performance audit by the CAG (Audit report on Rajasthan (General and Social Sector) for the year ending March 2014) and the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee in its 169th report of 14th Vidhan Sabha”.
If a performance audit by the constitutional auditors and recommendations by the Public Accounts Committee get ignored with such impunity, what would ensure the course correction? For example, during the course of this performance audit, it was revealed that contracts for 165 block level laboratories expired in March 2016, but the tendering process for a new contract for running these laboratories had not been finalised as of March 2017. This meant the facility of water testing at the block level has not been available in these 165 blocks since March 2016!
Having observed minutely how the PHED failed to provide effective testing of the biological and chemical contamination of drinking water, CAG auditors concluded, “Because of such persistent non-performance and deficiencies, the quality of drinking water couldn’t be ensured and this resulted in exposing the population of the state to serious public health hazard”.
The CAG auditors also raised concern that Information, Education and Communication (IEC) funds for village-level activities were not utilised as envisaged in the programme guidelines. While the NRDWP guidelines provided for 60 percent of IEC funds to be spent on village-level activities, in Rajasthan merely 22.95 percent IEC funds got utilised for it. CAG auditors were also shocked to observe that during 2015-17, no district, block and village-level activities were taken up.
The author is a faculty at Azim Premji University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of India Water Portal.