The incoming Modi government 2.0 has kept its promise of setting up Jal Shakti, a ministry for water resources and related issues. The BJP manifesto as well as PM Modi in his electoral speeches had made a promise to that effect.
Therefore by amalgamating the formerly Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation into a single Ministry of Jal Shakti, the government has made its intent clear. That water as a subject of public policy and governance has to be accorded the highest priority in the second term, just as gas cylinder, toilets and household electricity had been in Mr Modi’s first term.
In right earnest, within days of swearing in, with the constitution of a composite ministry covering all related aspects, the government has hit the top gear straightaway.
Recognition of a problem the first step
The prerequisite of tackling of any policy challenge is to first recognise that there is a problem to be redressed. The earlier governments spoke desultorily of water as a policy issue in ambiguous terms and often without any thought and vision, if, and whenever they did. However, the Modi government in its previous stint itself had commissioned a research on the subject by the top policy think tank, Niti Aayog which had published its results last year.
Grasping the nitty gritty of the problem, the next step
The 2018 NITI Aayog report has warned that India is suffering from “the worst water crisis in its history”, with millions of lives and livelihoods being under threat. About 600 million people in the country face high to extreme water stress at present; 200,000 die every year because of inadequate access to safe water. The report also said that 75 per cent of the country’s households didn’t have access to drinking water on premise, and 84 per cent rural households didn’t get piped water. However, what was even more alarming was that 70 per cent of the country’s water was contaminated. In fact, by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.
The immediate challenge for the ministry, as the NITI Aayog report points out, is that 21 cities, including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad, are set to run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting an estimated 100 million people. It also warned that groundwater resources, which constitute 40 per cent of India’s water supply, were being depleted at unsustainable rates.
Only last month, the Centre had issued an advisory to Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, asking them to use water judiciously in the coming weeks as water storage in dams dropped to a critical level. It is particularly alarming in southern and western states.
Developing the right mechanism is the next logical step
The streamlining of different related ministries into a single Ministry of Jal Shakti amounts to precisely that.
Covered several grounds across sectors in its first term
Given the linkage between river cleaning, potable water, sanitation and irrigation, all components of integrated water management, the government had worked on all fronts in its first term.
Cleaning of rivers
- For instance, since river Ganga is the lifeline of many in the northern parts of the country and could be used as a major source of clean drinking water, the Namami Gange project had sought to been operationalised to the fullest.
- Until the end of last year, a total of 254 projects worth 24,672 crore had been sanctioned for various activities such as sewage infrastructure, ghats & crematoria development, river front development, river surface cleaning, institutional development, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, rural sanitation, and public participation.
- Only cleaning of river water can provide for safe and clean drinking water. Notably, almost half of 254 projects were sanctioned for creation of 3076 Million Litres Per Day (MLD) new sewage treatment plants (STPs) and laying/ rehabilitation of 4942 km sewer network for abatement of pollution in river Ganga and Yamuna.
- In addition, for river surface cleaning, 11 trash skimmers have been deployed at Haridwar, Garh Mukhteshwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna, Sahibganj, Nabadwip, Howrah Delhi and Mathura-Vrindavan.
- Given the direct relation between river cleaning and rural sanitation, all 4465 villages on the bank of river Ganga have been made Open Defecation Free (ODF) and 10,83,688 Individual Household Toilets have been constructed by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS).
- The complete cleaning of Sisamau Nala at Kanpur, the worst pollutant for river Ganga, is another outstanding achievement.
- Further, as part of Industrial Pollution Management (IPM), 961 Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs) have been identified of which 795 units have connected to Online Continuous Effluent Monitoring System (OCEMS) to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) server.
- Action has already been taken against 209 Non-Complying units. At the same time, 36 Real Time Water Quality Monitoring Station (RTWQMS) are operational covering 130 locations.
- A community–led drinking water project called ‘Swajal’ aimed at providing sustainable and adequate drinking water in an integrated manner to the rural masses was launched covering 115 aspirational districts of the country last year.
- The government also identified 27,500 Quality-Affected Habitations and had allocated Rs 1000 Crores to Provide Clean Drinking Water to them.
- Modernisation of 2000 water quality testing laboratories spread across the country
- In addition, a number of old or long pending projects such as Farakka barrage on Hughly, Lakhwar multi-purpose project in Upper Yamuna, North Koel reservoir project in Bihar and Jharkhand, and Polavaram irrigation project in Andhra, have been renewed or revitalised.
- Under the river-linking project envisaged by the Vajpayee government, Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of three priority links have been completed, namely, Ken-Betwa link project, Damanganga-Pinjal link project and Par-Tapi-Narmada link project.
- Also, the linking of Mahanadi and Godavari rivers has been given a new push.
Clean water diplomacy on foreign front
The government hasn’t confined itself to domestic policy push. Seeking cooperation from countries known to possess excellent clean water technologies and water management, the government has left nothing to chance. For instance, Israel is well-recognised for its water cleaning technologies and in that context, there have been a slew of meetings between Israeli government officials and Indian officials to explore ways to collaborate on water conservation efforts and technology sharing. Only last year, India and UK had launched joint research projects on water quality and energy demand reduction. Then the stoppage of some of the waters of Indus river to Pakistan and saving it for Indians is another way to deal with the water problem that the country faces.
The vision for future
Thus taking the earlier measures forward, the government has endeavoured to provide a comprehensive vision to the challenge of clean drinking water in the country. Under ‘Jal Jivan Mission’, it has launched a special program, ‘Nal se Jal’ to ensure piped water connection to every household by 2024. The linkage of Swachhta with drinking water is to be addressed through Swachhata se Sampannata (Swachh Bharat Mission) entailing 100% disposal of liquid waste water and reuse of waste water. With further emphasis on rainwater harvesting, and groundwater and watershed management, the Modi government is all set to put an end to the clean drinking water challenge for the country.