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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Jal Jeevan Mission: Not yet ‘Har Ghar Jal’ but getting there, one tap at a time

After focusing on housing, toilets, cooking gas, etc., in the first term, the Modi government in its second term decided to focus attention on ensuring that each rural household in the country gets piped drinking water at their doorstep: The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) launched with a motto ‘Har Ghar Jal’ in August 2019 aims to provide potable tap water at every doorstep in the country by 2024.

Government data showed that in 2019, only 3.23 crore (i.e. just 17 per cent) out of 19.22 crore rural households had tap water connections. The Jal Shakti Ministry set out the ambitious target of providing functional household tap connection (FHTC) to the remaining 16 crore (83 per cent) households by 2024.

“Reduction in drudgery of women and girls, improvement in ‘quality of life’, enhancement of ‘ease of living’, and dignity of life to rural communities,” were some of the lofty aims that Modi listed out that day and often repeated by Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The government claims that the Jal Jeevan Mission is being implemented in a decentralised manner following the ‘bottom-up’ approach, wherein the local village community, especially women, play a key role starting from planning to implementation and from management to operation & maintenance. ‘Village Water & Sanitation Committee’ / ‘Pani Samiti’ have been formed and women are also being trained to conduct water quality testing using Field Test Kits (FTKs).

“As on December 25, 8.70 crore (45.32 per cent) rural households from more than 1.29 lakh villages in 83 districts are receiving tap water supply. Goa, Telangana, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, Puducherry and Haryana have become ‘Har Ghar Jal’ states/ UTs, i.e., 100 per cent rural households to have taps,” them Ministry data showed.

Problems on the ground

However, not all is hunky-dory; issues galore at implementation level. The truly remote areas that are otherwise also outside the radar of administration are still waiting. In some, the focus is on raising infrastructure for the scheme without much thought to the location/site.

Case in point Anuppur, the tribal dominated Shahdol and Umariya districts in eastern Madhya Pradesh. Around here, the JJM has reached only to those areas that are easily accessible by motorable roads.

Santosh Shukla from Shahdol’s Satguru Mission, an NGO working in the field of rural development, gives the example of a tribal hamlet atop a hill, Dongariya Tola, about a 100 kms from the district headquarters, Anuppur, is where people climb up and down the hills to fetch drinking water even today. “Where the officials can go or take people to showcase, the taps have reached only those areas. The real needy people are still waiting,” he said.

Many other places, its implementation is like any other government scheme. At several places taps don’t yield water; at some places only the pipeline has been laid but no taps are there, and at some other places the taps are there, the pipelines are there but the tank from which these will get water has no connection to the source, Shukla said.

Madhya Pradesh has chosen 2023 to achieve the 100 per cent target. As on date, according to the JJM dashboard, of the 1,22,27,914 households in Madhya Pradesh, as many as 45,10,061 (36 per cent) have tap water connections.

Similar is the problem in remote tribal areas of Arunachal Pradesh, which too has almost 2/3rd of mountainous area. Longding and surrounding areas in eastern Arunachal Pradesh are hilly habitations that are parched for six months of a year. Lines of plastic drums dot the sides of the lanes with people complaining that there is no fixed time for the tankers.

Said a government official from the area, on conditions of anonymity, “The springs that supply water in the mountain areas are all drying up fast. The villages along the rivers and rivulets still have some or the other hope, but places such as Longding, do not even fall in that category. Many residents take their clothes once a week to a riverbank that is about six kms away by road. Hygiene is a big issue.”

Same model for water scarce and water excess areas?

Hygienic conditions due to lack of water are a matter of concern and so are due to excessive waters, i.e., floods. In places such as flood prone Bihar, especially north Bihar, where in most years it floods at least twice for long durations during monsoon, just focusing on getting the infrastructure would not help.

The Bihar state government had already been running the ‘Har Ghar Nal Ka Jal’ scheme in 2016. The Modi government’s JJM is largely based on that, of course, with certain tweaks / customisation, with a tagline ‘Har Ghar Jal’.

Eklavya Prasad of Megh Pyne Abhiyan, an NGO working in the water sector in that state, draws a parallel to the great learnings from the toilet building exercise carried out under the Swachcha Bharat Abhiyan in Bihar. “During the flood times, these toilets were either washed away completely or remained inaccessible due to flooding. The toilet construction should have been done keeping in mind the recurring disasters and also the fact that the facility should not just survive (the disaster) but also provide service in disaster time,” Prasad said.

This learning could have been helpful for the entire eastern belt, starting from eastern Uttar Pradesh, north Bihar, north Bengal, central Bengal, south Bengal and almost the entire Assam.

“I have not seen any system that is disaster resilient,” he said, adding, “They talk of people’s behavioural change, equally important is for the government to change its behaviour and look at things differently.

It is not that the government has not given a thought to these things. The main theme is, “assured tap water supply to every home in every village for the next 30-40 years.” There is an emphasis on the quality of water. Places that have arsenic or fluroide or some such contaminant, those are duly provided RO-based filters with specifications supposed to be displayed. The JJM also talks of hundreds of partnerships that have made it a ‘Jan Andolan’, including 8.50 lakh trained women for water quality testing and 3.35 lakh village action plans prepared by villagers; committees.

Major concern for Himalayan states

Among the Himalayan states and UTs, Ladakh is amongst the states to catch up fast with the Mission objectives. The UT witnesses minus 30 temperature at night in peak winters and for almost all other normal times, the day time temperature runs somewhere between zero to minus five. The public taps are never shut in this cold desert as running water does not freeze. The tanks atop the houses or hotels are wrapped to keep the cold away. And overall water availability and usage has restrictions because of the freezing cold temperatures.

Now with thermal coated pipes, the taps reaching one home at a time, several villages are becoming ‘Har Ghar Jal’ villages.

While Ladakh, as yet, does not have a problem of water sources going dry, other Himalayan states such as Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh are already facing lots of problems owing to the overall water availability near the habitations.

Bringing in the mountain perspective — water scarcity hotspots, changing developmental paradigm and erratic rainfall pattern — that matter most, Vishal Singh of NGO Centre for Ecological Development and Research (CEDAR) from Uttarakhand, asserted this scheme will be successful in the mountains, only when the sources are secure.

“There is a need to focus more on source sustainability. Nature based solutions –retain, recharge, release — are necessary rather than engineering solutions,” he said.

He, however, offered a point to ponder: “There is no incentive for saving water. The whole talk is about bringing water to the doorstep of the people, which is understandable. But long term sustainability needs to be regenerative and the government has offered no incentive whatsoever for people who save water and thus lessen the demand pressure.”

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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