AT the headquarters of the Union Jal Shakti ministry in New Delhi, Bharat Lal, additional secretary and director, Jal Jeevan Mission, clicks on his computer to check on the progress of the government’s massive programme to ensure that every rural household has a functional tap connection for drinking water by 2024. The dashboard of the ministry website flashes that 127,000 households across the country have been provided with a functional tap connection on that particular day. Next, he checks the total number of households that have been provided these tap connections since the mission was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2019. The figure stands at 38.46 million. That’s phenomenal progress considering that prior to that date, only 32 million households had received functional tap connections since Independence.
Yet, despite the Jal Jeevan Mission fast-tracking supply, only around 36.9 per cent, or a little more than a third of the 191 million households, have piped water supply. That about 63 per cent of India’s rural population still has to step outside their homes and wait in queues, sometimes for hours, to get their daily requirement of water should be a matter of shame for a country and its leaders.
MAPPING THE CHALLENGE: Bharat Lal, director, Jal Jeevan Mission, at his office in New Delhi
That’s why Lal and his colleagues are pursuing the Jal Jeevan Mission, which promises to provide functional tap water connections to all rural households apart from schools by 2024, with missionary zeal and keeping a hawk’s eye on the calendar. While there have been massive efforts to provide drinking water in the past, including the National Drinking Water Mission launched by Rajiv Gandhi in 1986, none compares with the magnitude of the task the Jal Jeevan Mission has set for itself. To meet its 2024 target under the ‘Har Ghar Nal Se Jal (Tap water in every house)’ programme as it is called, the government has to provide annually 30 million new households with tap water for the next four years.
Money is not an issue, with the Narendra Modi government setting aside Rs 3.6 lakh crore to accomplish it. But what the Jal Jeevan Mission team is doing is injecting a massive amount of technology to monitor the progress of the mission, apart from pushing for standardisation of pipes, taps and other equipment needed to provide tap water. Lal can zero in on any district in the country or any village to find out the progress achieved in terms of infrastructure being provided and water being supplied. It is such constant monitoring that ensures that not only the quantity of water supplied but its quality too is being checked.
Having pioneered the award-winning Gujarat water supply and sanitation scheme in the mid-2000s, Lal is aware of the complexities of implementing the Jal Jeevan programme. He has no patience for excuses from states that are lagging behind in meeting their targets. For him, community participation is the key to ensuring that not only does piped water supply reach every house but also that it is operated and maintained efficiently and is sustainable. The mission is pushing for the ‘Pani Samiti’ concept that empowers villagers, particularly women, to oversee and operate the supply of water (see Where Women Run the Show).
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, activities like construction of tanks, plumbing and electrical work, water quality management, water treatment, catchment protection and operation and management are undertaken through community participation. “Providing tap water connections to every household is critical to the socio-economic development of the country,” says Lal. “Women bear the brunt of collecting water, and if there is no functional tap at home, it means enormous loss of time and energy for them. The tap liberates them for the drudgery and empowers them. Also supplying treated water means less sickness and expenses at home. Overall, it will improve both the ease and quality of life, particularly for women.”
To ensure the sustainability of water resources, the mission also includes augmenting local water resources through water-harvesting techniques. Villagers are also being encouraged to use waste water by treating and using it for agricultural purposes. Building of tanks, laying of water pipes and installation of taps is a huge source of employment for rural technicians and has boosted the availability of jobs and the local economy. If the Jal Jeevan Mission lives up to its promise, it will transform rural India by 2024.