Union Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman presented the decade's first union budget in the parliament on 1st February 2020. While presenting budget for 2020-2021, she started with the country’s vision for the decade in which she emphasised on water management and clean rivers as one of the 10 points of vision for the country. The announcement assumes importance in the light of NITI Aayog’s grim estimate that around half of the country’s population or approximately 600 million people face high to extreme water stress.
The financial provisions
In this year’s budget, approximately 39,029 crore INR are proposed for the water domain spread across the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare, Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. This allocation is around 6% more than last year’s budget.
During 2019-2020, against the proposed 36,883 crore INR, the revised budget allocation had decreased to 31,110 crore INR, which indicates around 16% decrease. Budget provision to Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna (PMKSY), the flagship scheme under the consecutive NDA governments was 11,506 crore INR, which is around 11% higher than last year’s allocations.
Ministry of Jal Shakti
The new 'Jal Shakti' Ministry, in which the erstwhile ministries of Water Resources and Drinking Water & Sanitation were merged has been allotted a budget of 30,478 crore INR, which is 8% more than last year’s budget. In the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, as usual, the key share has been allocated to the major and medium irrigation projects.
Out of the total allocation of 8,960 crore INR, 5124 crore INR has been provided to the PMKSY component. In this case, that includes - Har Khet Ko Pani (1,050 crore), Flood Management and Border Areas Programme (750 crore), Atal Bhujal Yojana (200 crore), servicing of loans from NABARD under PMKSY (2675 crore) and special package for Vidarbha and Marathawada (400 crore).
Allocation for Atal Bhujal Yojana is a new addition after its long-awaited approval from the cabinet in the December 2019. Like earlier years, this year too approximately 25% of the amount is going for servicing of loans from NABARD under PMKSY. Further, National River Conservation Plan had been allocated 840 crore INR. This is 25% lesser than last year’s revised allocation. The budget allocation for Namami Gange programme, River Basin Management and Ground Water Management and Regulation remain roughly the same as last year’s allocation.
For the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, there is no significant change in the total allocation of 21,518 crore INR as compared to last year’s 20,061 crore INR. The Jal Jeevan Mission and National Rural Drinking Water Mission has been allocated a sum of 11,500 crore INR. The government is pushing Jal Jeevan Mission in this term. Union Finance Minister Ms Nirmala Sitharaman had explicitly mentioned that under this program, the aim is to achieve provision of functional household tap connection to every rural household by 2024 and also mentioned that the cabinet had approved 3.6 lakh crore INR for this scheme. The allocation of 11,500 crores did not live up to the heightened attention to water in NDA II and the pre-budget expectation that this would result in substantial increase in budgetary provisions was not met.
The Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) had been allocated a sum of 9,994 crore INR to ensure sustainability of open defecation free status in all the rural areas and to cover all the villages of the country with solid and liquid waste management arrangements.
Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare
Under the banner of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) - Per Drop More Crop, a total allocation of 4,000 crore had been made, which is approximately 14% higher than last year’s revised estimate. But interestingly, last year’s allocation is revised to 2,032 crore INR from the initially allocated 3,500 crore INR. This is startling considering that the economic survey 2020 had only highlighted this component from the water in agriculture domain.
Ministry of Rural Development
In the Department of Land Resources, for the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna (PMKSY) - Integrated Watershed Development Program a total allocation of 2,251 crore INR had been made, which is almost equal to last year’s allocation of 2,227 crore INR.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
Under the scheme of Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban, an allocation of 2,300 crore INR has been made as compared to last year’s allocation of 2,850 crore INR.
The Prime Minister had repetitively through the radio talk show ‘Mann ki baat’ and through other public addresses urged for community participation in water conservation. But, the budget allocation is mostly to the centralised or top down implementation approach schemes or programs. One of the most appreciated and acknowledged components i.e. watershed management has not seen any additional allocation as compared to last year. The current government had launched the Jal Sakti Abhiyan for water conservation but there is no allocation for the same. Like the previous year, this year too, the whole mission is left in the hands of the convergence.
The budget allocation suggests that the predominant focus of the Ministry of Jal Shakti continues to be on water resources development rather than water resources governance or management.
Country continues to reel under severe water crisis, whether drought or acute shortage of drinking water. While, the Prime Minister had urged the need for community based water conservation and rainwater harvesting, the paradox is that the preference of policy makers lies in large water infrastructure at the cost of small and decentralised modes. This year’s budget is an evidence of this.
India’s water resources are degrading day by day, be it rivers, streams, lacks, ponds, springs or aquifers but this budget has not taken any significant steps to address this. The focus continues to be on source management, while neglecting the resources.
This year’s budget is no different from earlier ones, whether in terms of provisions or priority. While the finance minister has discontinued the colonial tradition of carrying a briefcase, we wish it could make a break from the colonial approach of water management. The fear is that even after spending almost 40,000 crore INR in water domain in the months to come, the country could still be dealing with an acute water crisis.
Partik Kumar is a Master’s in Water Policy and Governance from TISS, Mumbai. He is presently working with the Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture (RRA) Network, a pan India network working on revival of rainfed agriculture. Partik can be reached at email@example.com; +91 9967563707