(Part I of a two-part series)
India is home to 17% of the world population but is endowed with only 4% of the global freshwater resources. Many districts and cities in India face water scarcity. Inadequate use of modern demand-supply management tools and technology and lack of emphasis policymaking exacerbate India’s water security issues.
Decisionmakers and stakeholders need to treat water as a precious natural resource with economic value and not as a free gift of nature. Unless they undertake inclusive and transformative initiatives, India’s water issues are likely to become even more acute.
NITI-Aayog’s research depicts that nearly 600 million Indians already face high to extreme water stress. 21 cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad are projected to run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people. India’s national water demand is likely to double by 2030 due to sustained high growth, and the country’s vision of becoming a USD 5 trillion economy. NITI Aayog argues that without corrective measures involving all stakeholders, India’s economic and social ambitions will be adversely affected.
Better quality water is not only a necessity for humans, but also for crops, cattle and the fisheries sector. It is an essential component of sustainable broad-based development.
The Design and Structure of the Jal Jeevan Mission
The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) began in 2019 and is among the key initiatives of PM Modi’s government. It aims to bring about greater ease of living throughout the country by fulfilling an essential need: providing good quality piped water to households across India (Har Ghar Nal Se Jal in Hindi) on a regular and long-term basis by 2024. The government has undertaken robust systems and reengineering of the public health system to achieve this goal.
As on 15 August 2019, only 16.9 percent of rural households, or 32.3 million, out of the total 191.1 million rural households in the country had piped water connection. A major challenge in bridging this wide gap is groundwater contamination which is widespread in rural areas. The JJM needs to address this issue with high priority.
The JJM also aims to reduce the burden of women who walk many kilometres to fetch water which, sometimes, endangers their safety. By addressing this aspect, JJM aspires to equip women to use this saved time to improve their own and household welfare through market-based home production or other pursuits. However, there is a need for rigorous, empirical, and policy-relevant research on these aspects.
Given the currently sparse network of water connections, by improving this network, JJM has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for many rural households. The success of JJM would mean the fulfilment of SDG 6 (“clean water and sanitation for all”) of the United Nations.
The technology needed to achieve these goals has been a part of the global knowledge stock for decades, but India has lacked the vision, leadership, and the determination to organize a competent and system-based approach, promoting coordination among the many layers of government and stakeholders. The current government has been trying to address this gap.
The Prime Minister has explicitly underlined the pivotal role of sarpanches and village heads in the effective implementation of the JJM and urged them to ensure its efficacy. On October 2, 2020, the government launched a 100-day Jan Andolan (People’s Movement) to ensure potable water supply in all schools and Anganwadi centres across the country.
To demonstrate the determination and signal a mind-set change, the government has merged existing ministries and departments of Water Resources, River Development, Ganga Rejuvenation, and Drinking Water and Sanitation, into a single new ministry – the Jal Shakti Ministry – since May 2019. This ministry now has the task of undertaking management of water resources and drinking water supply in a systemic and integrated manner.
Another positive feature of the JJM is its openness to harnessing new technologies in delivering citizen-centric outcomes. Reportedly, the JJM has constituted a Technical Expert Committee to prepare a road map for measuring and monitoring water service delivery system in rural areas. The JJM, has partnered with State Governments and sector partners and started facilitating a sensor-based water supply system on a pilot basis in various villages. Gujarat currently has such a project in 1000 villages across five districts, and other states are following suit.
The JJM has also collaborated with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to hold an Information and communication technology contest. Through such activities, it aims to encourage the development of innovative, modular, and cost-effective solutions for measuring and monitoring water supply at the village level.
Mindful of the importance of time, the JJM has delineated clear deadlines for different states and UTs.
The JJM’s primary focus, i.e. its single most important ‘key performance indicator’ (KPI) is the Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC). However, it has also given due importance to factors such as water quality, duration of availability of water, sustainability of the flow for longer period etc. This too is a testimony to its all-round approach and efforts.
(Read Part II of the two-part series here)
(A version of this article was first published here on MyIndMakers.)
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.