Har Ghar Jal – Sustaining the Win

India has battled water security owing to the rise in population (estimated to reach 1.6 billion by 2050) and declining availability of water on a per capita basis. Coupling with an assured supply of water, provisions for its cleanliness and the underlying irregularities has served as an additional challenge to circumvent. In its report, ‘Composite Water Management Index 2.0’ in 2018, Niti Aayog with the Ministry of Jal Shakti and Rural Development underscored the inefficacious water management in our country where by 2030 demand by outstripping supply would entrench the quandary of water scarcity. Commitment for the provision of clean water as a means to improve public health and raise nutrition standards is driven from Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Clean water and Sanitation and Resolution number 64/292 of the United Nations General Assembly where ensuring adequate and affordable quantity of safe water is a human right. Unavailability, unaffordability and inaccessibility of water have served as a potent barrier to women employment and women enrollment rate i.e. exacerbating the embedded gender inequality of the Indian social system.

Against this backdrop, the unparalleled institutionalization of Jal Jeevan Mission- Har Ghar Nal Se Jal which aims to provide an extensive arrangement of Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) at the rate of 55 litres per capita per day to every rural household by 2024 turns to be a light at the end of the tunnel. By adopting a Community-centric approach, this Jan Andolan (People’s Movement) runs against the ‘Trickle down’ theory of economics and follows a ‘Bottom-up’ approach where the concept of decentralization and devolution of power has been given utmost importance. It necessitates the construction of Village Water and Sanitation Committees (Pani Samitis) for greywater management, maintenance, operation and regulating perennial supply of water to households. This fulfills the fundamental value of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment (1992) and Article 40(Formation of Village Panchayats) of the Directive Principles of State Policy, a triumph to ‘Local Governance’ which is a distinctive aspect of the Indian constitution not found in any other Constitution of the World. Not only this, it also marks the paramountcy of women empowerment by mandating 50% reservation of women in these samitis, giving them more power, representation and influence in decision-making.

This mission, as a breakthrough, will abridge the exorbitant time that women spend on collecting water for the family, allowing them to transform themselves to a ‘breadwinner’ from the socially-proclaimed ‘caretaker’ of the family. Perpetual supply of water in schools and Angadwadi centres will inhibit girls to take frequent leaves in conformity to their monthly menstrual cycle, reducing absenteeism. Potable water, by scaling down water- borne diseases, will generate binary effects. One, re-structure the population pyramid of the country by increasing the average life expectancy and reducing the rate of infant mortality. Second, stimulate India’s enrollment rate and discourage dropouts that are attributable to health-related constraints. In India, agricultural activities account for 55% of workforce but observe the least contribution to the gross domestic product of the country i.e. 16.5% (First Advance Estimates 2019-20). By providing avenues of employment to plumbers, electricians and pump operators in rural areas, Jal Jeevan Mission will unfold opportunities in non-agricultural sectors and counteract the ‘disguised unemployment’ underlying the overcrowded farm sector.

The improvisations mentioned above in various dimensions of socio-economic progress will transform humans into a capital, adding to the material wealth and well-being of the country. As India is in the phase of larger share of working- age population (economically active participants) and declining dependency ratio (owing to a fall in fertility rate and gradual pace of ageing), a rise in human capital will assist India in exploiting the window of opportunity provided by this ‘demographic dividend’.

However, the duration for which this light will reflect a ray of hopefulness is a matter of deliberation. Accentuating digitalization, application of technological developments has been the underlining impetus of this mission’s outgrowth. To safeguard transparency and accountability, mobile app and a dashboard will alert consumers on the quality test conducted and any service disruptions such that usage of water can be planned accordingly. This directs to the possibility of deepening the ‘digital divide’ where those in dispossession of smart phones, internet connectivity and technological know-how will remain bereaved of the updates on the same. Entrusting local communities (including masons, pump operators, fitters and plumbers) to monitor and regulate the success of the ‘service delivery’ commands substantial skill and training programmes, posing enormous challenge for its targeted execution. As only Goa, Telangana, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry have been able to attain the 100% target of tap water connection, this project augments the essence of ‘competitive federalism’. However, there are immense inter-state as well as intra-state variations in regard to size, demographics, adaptivity of scientific advancements, human development indicators, state-local level cooperation and readiness for social change in terms of women’s employment, representation and enrollment in schools. These factors will act decisively in determining not only the accomplishment of the 100% benchmark but also the endurance of the same.

In correspondence with similar socio-welfare schemes, Saubhagya scheme of 100% electrification of households has been acclaimed of successful completion but routine supply remains a challenge dominantly due to high price charged by distribution companies (DISCOMs). Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana guarantees the assured connection of LPG cylinders to BPL families but its success has been overshadowed by rising cost (market price) of LPG cylinders and differentiated access to the subsidies provided by the government. On similar grounds, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, a landmark demonstration in India’s history, continues to face the challenge of private banks levying hidden charges, banks not extending the overdraft facilities, duplication of bank accounts and financial illiteracy. Analogously, the fate of Har Ghar Jal does not depend on seizing the aforementioned target. It rather depends on addressing the structural and the institutional challenges which does not account for a one-time solution but for a long-term resolution. It is not just about winning the target, it is considerably about sustaining that win.

-Bishakha Jajodia (Freelancer)

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