This would be a big marker of success for the government’s Jal Jeevan Mission, announced on Independence Day two years ago by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So far, as many as 78 districts, 905 blocks, 53,644 gram panchayats and 106,000 villages across the country have assured tap water supply as have 68% government schools, 61% anganwadis centres, 44 million rural households and 78 million rural families.
Goa, Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have been leading the mission with a robust pace.
As many as 10.9 million households in Japanese Encephalitis-affected districts in the country now have a tap water connection, a 13-time increase from 800,000 such households in 2019.
Also, 5.2 million households in Scheduled Caste-majority villages and 4.6 million in Scheduled Tribe-majority villages finally have tap water supply – they don’t have to lug around buckets and vessels from the nearest water source any longer.
Among the ‘aspirational districts’ identified by official think tank Niti Aayog, 34.6% now have tap water supply, a four-time increase from 9.4% in August 2019.
While the water supplied is already of ‘potable’ quality, the Jal Shakti ministry is running additional checks across districts to ensure drinking water quality is not compromised in any way, officials said.
About 640,000 women have already been trained on water quality testing, which is now coming to the forefront across all villages with tap water supply. Over 3,000 community water purification plants have already been set up and 2,000 labs mobilised for water quality checks, they said.
To make this huge boost in tap water supply in just two years, the central and state governments have pumped in more than `37,203 crore into rural economy and a flagship mission has been steering it from New Delhi to the village ‘Paani Samiti’, officials said.
On August 15, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the `3.5 lakh-crore Jal Jeevan Mission to provide a functional household tap connection (FHTC) to 157 million rural households by 2024 – to ensure every single rural household in the country has tap water access.
Two years later, it is a good time to do a reckoning.
Goa, Telangana, Puducherry, and Andaman & Nicobar Island have covered 100% of their households with a functional tap water connection, official data shows. Bihar is expected to join by the end of this year.
Another eight states and UTs are to accomplish the same in 2022. Between 2023 and 2024, 17 states are estimated to reach a 100% FTCH coverage.
The road to the 100% target, however, is no cakewalk.
Factor this: of the total 711 districts in the country, 88 districts have functional tap water connections in less than 10% households. In 172 districts, only 10% to 25% households have a direct tap connection. In 182 districts, the proportion is less than half at 25%-50%.
Against the tight deadlines is the pandemic that has been disrupting the pace.
It has also resulted in a major spike in prices of steel pipes and cement – both key to lay water supply lines.
In 13 states- where 90% Mission work remains- things are yet to pick pace. In many cases, states are unable to mobilise the matching financial share for the programme on time.
Then there are logistics and difficulties of laying pipelines in hilly and remote areas.
The Jal Shakti ministry, however, is pushing states considerably.
As much as it is pitching a quality-of-life upgrade with its mission, it is also promising a boost in the rural economy.
First, through the massive funding being pumped into the rural economy by way of the Jal Jeevan mission – more than Rs 1 lakh crore is to be invested in 2021-22 alone by the Centre and states in rural drinking water supply. Further, Rs 1,42,084 crore is tied as grants to Panchayati Raj institutions for water-related works for the next five years.
Two, there is the laying of the tap water pipe network that is also generating new and near-permanent employment.
There are tonnes of steel, cement and PVC piping heading into villages as part of the mission and trained manpower is required at every step. It is estimated that 2.5 million skilled and semi-skilled workforce will be required to run this scheme for the next three years. Every village is expected to hire masons, plumbers, electricians, pump managers and more to not only lay down the water supply system but help maintain and run it.
This promise of drinking water from the tap obviously holds high value. So does the glimmer of a major boost in the rural economy, especially at a time when every industry is grappling with an unpredictable pandemic.