The $40 billion allocated for providing water connections across the country will not only better health and hygiene standards and improve the ease of living for citizens, but it will also create huge demand for products such as steel, cement, sanitaryware and labour and help generate millions of jobs and provide a further fillip to India’s fast recovering growth engine.
The fulfil the Narendra Modi government’s pledge of providing every household with potable tap water connection by 2024 and, thus, improving the “ease of living” of all Indian citizens, Finance Minister Nirmala has allocated as much as $40 billion in her Budget for 2021-22 towards this initiative.
This makes it among the single largest infrastructure building initiatives in India.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly stressed the importance of clean water, sanitation, and a clean environment as a prerequisite to achieving universal health. The mission aims to supply water to 4,378 urban local bodies with 2.68 crore (26.8 million) tap connections. Liquid waste management would be carried out across 500 Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) cities,” she announced on 1 February.
450% rise in allocation for urban infrastructure
The scheme will be implemented over five years and aims to provide safe tap water connections to millions of urban households. The allocation for the urban portion of this mission is $7 billion, a 450 per cent increase over the revised estimates for the current financial year.
This is part of the Modi government’s promise to provide safe drinking water to every Indian household by 2024 and follows the stupendous success of his initiative to build millions of toilets to end the practice of open defecation in his fist term as Prime Minister.
In 2019, Modi had formed the new Jal Shakti Ministry by integrating departments like water resources, drinking water and sanitation under one roof with the goal of ensuring “Har Ghar Jal” (Water in every household) in rural India. Now, this mission is being extended to urban India as well.
Not only will this improve health and sanitation standards in this country, it will also come as a huge stimulus for a host of industries and workers in sectors such as pipe manufacturing, construction, water treatment, sanitary and bathroom fittings, cement and steel – and all their feeder industries – but also create millions of new jobs for both white collar professionals as well as skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour that will be employed while implementing this mammoth, but highly decentralised project across every part of the country.
So, large and small foreign and domestic companies such as L&T, Tata Steel, JSW, Toshiba, HSIL, Ultratech, Shree Cement as well as consultancies and NGOs and others can expect to get a large portion of this massive pie as business and consultancy deals over the next few years.
According to the ministry website: “The programme will also implement source sustainability measures as mandatory elements, such as recharge and reuse through grey water management, water conservation, rainwater harvesting. The Jal Jeevan Mission will be based on a community approach to water and will include extensive Information, Education and communication as a key component of the mission. JJM (Jal Jeevan Mission) looks to create a jan andolan (people’s movement) for water, thereby making it everyone’s priority.”
The massive budgetary allocation for JJM this year has to be followed up with close monitoring of its implementation on the ground. According to data from the Jal Shakti Ministry, the JJM(Rural) initiative is running behind schedule and has managed to cover just over a third of the targeted 65.5 million households so far.
A major issue haunting this initiative is the “slippage problem”. This means households which receive tap water connections slide back to their previous “not covered the scheme” status for reasons such as the drying up of their water source or due to poor or non-existent maintenance of the facilities.
A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report said this problem was particularly acute in states such as West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand.
Therefore, a retired official of the government said the ministry has to focus its attention on recharging water sources, which, in a majority of cases, is groundwater.
But, he added, the success of the government in rolling out the ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in record time shows the government can pull of programmes that seem impossible if it musters up the required political will.
Given that the Prime Minister has invested his personal political capital on the success of this initiative gives hope that it, too, will meet its targets by 2024.