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New Delhi: The Jal Shakti ministry has seen a sharp increase in budgetary outlays over the last two years. Providing potable water to all rural households has been one of the pet programmes of the Narendra Modi government. That it will remain a priority in the years to come also reflects in the 2022-23 Union budget.
The total planned outlay for the ministry as enumerated in the 2022-23 Union budget is nearly Rs 78,998 crore, almost three-fourth of which has been allocated to the department of drinking water and sanitation that oversees the flagship “Nal se Jal” scheme.
The Jal Shakti ministry was formed in May 2019 after merging two ministries – the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. The budgetary outlays for the new ministry saw a quantum jump in the last year, with an outlay of over Rs 69,000 crore – almost a three-fold jump from the previous years. The trend continues in the 2022-23 budget, with a total outlay pegged at around Rs 86,189 crore.
The drinking water and sanitation department, with an outlay of Rs 67,221 crore, will corner a significant part of the total allocations to the Jal Shakti ministry, while the department of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation gets around Rs 19,000 crore. What is attention-worthy is that the latter will have to settle with only a marginal increase in the budgetary allocation from nearly Rs 18,000 crore, while the drinking water and sanitation department got a jump of around Rs 16,000 crore.
However, it may be noted that the Union government could not spend the total budgetary outlay on drinking water and sanitation last year. While it had planned an allocation of around Rs 60,000 crore to the department, it could spend only a little over Rs 51,000 crore. Yet, the Union government’s emphasis on supplying potable water amidst an unending pandemic can’t be missed.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Union finance minister Niramal Sitharaman laid emphasis on the Nal se Jal scheme in her speech that was otherwise quite shorn of valuable details. “Current coverage of Har Ghar, Nal Se Jal is 8.7 crores. Of this 5.5 crore households were provided tap water in the last two years itself. Allocation of `Rs 60,000 crore has been made with an aim to cover 3.8 crore households in 2022-23,” she said in her speech.
On the other hand, it appears that long-term plans for effective management of water resources and river development have been abandoned as a priority. In fact, the Namami Gange project which the prime minister had launched with huge fanfare a few years ago has received only a measly Rs 2,800 crore. The casual approach towards the project is evident in the budget sheets, which do not care to unpack the planned outlay for it.
The increased outlay for the drinking water and sanitation department, however, reflects the “distinctive approach” that the former economic advisor Arvind Subramanian famously referenced about the Modi government’s welfare model that focuses on “providing tangible essentials to citizens”, in contrast to a model that delivers “intangibles” like health and education.
The Union government’s target to provide 80 lakh houses to eligible beneficiaries of the PM Awas Yojana with an outlay of Rs 48,000 crore in 2022-23, as announced by Sitharaman in her budget speech, also reflects this trend, as much as the near stagnant allocations in budgetary outlays to education and health does.