The Central government has announced in the Budget through the allocations for the water and sanitation sectors, it aims to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. These are welcome steps given the critical condition of India’s water sector, which is highly stressed.
Water resources are limited. The water demand in all sectors by 2050 is estimated to exceed its supply. While demand is growing, the quality of water supply is dwindling. Per capita water supply is declining on an annual basis and is likely to touch the benchmark of water-scarce supply in the coming years. Groundwater levels are also decreasing, although globally, India is the highest user of groundwater, especially in irrigation and domestic sectors. Its quality is also a cause of concern.
SDG 6.1 stipulates achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking for all by 2030. Under the Jal Jivan Mission (JJM) scheme, India launched the programme to provide piped water connections (at 55 litres per head per day) to 14.6 crore rural households by 2024. An amount of Rs 3.6 lakh crore (with a Central share of Rs 2.08 lakh crore) has been approved for this scheme over the five year period. During 2020-21 (Table 1), an allocation of Rs 11,500 crore (15% more than the revised estimate for 2019-20) for connecting 1.15 crore household through functionally piped connections in rural areas, has been made. Under this programme, source sustainability measures for augmenting water supply through rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge, and management of greywater for reusing wastewater, have been envisaged through gram panchayats which should play a crucial role in planning, designing, execution, operations and maintenance of the in-village infrastructure.
SDG 6.2 goals are required to be achieved by India through access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all, and ending open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women, girls, and those in vulnerable situations. Having made substantial progress under the Swachh Bharat Mission and declaring the country as open defecation free (ODF), India is determined to continue to take steps for liquid and solid faecal waste management, post toilet construction. Accordingly, it has allocated Rs 12,294 crore (25% more than the revised estimate of 2019-20) for FY 2020-21 for achieving the ‘ODF plus’ status of sanitation component. This is also a welcome step.
Water quality has to be improved by reducing pollution (SDG 6.3) by 2030. For cleaning the river, allocation of funds under Namami Gange (Rs 800 crore) for Ganga cleaning and National River conservation (Rs 840 crore) for cleaning other rivers, has been made during 2020-21. SDG 6.6 mandates protecting and restoring water-related ecosystem such as wetlands, rivers, aquifers. These two programmes address this aspect as well. There is no fund allocated for grey water management for recycling and reuse of wastewater as required under SDG (6.3), although this aspect is proposed to be covered under the JJM scheme while giving access to water.
India’s water use efficiency in all sectors is not satisfactory. For example, India’s water use is highest in the irrigation sector (80%) and its efficiency is only 38%. To address the improvement of the efficiency, PMKSY (‘per drop more crop’) scheme was launched using micro-irrigation technology. India’s potential for micro-irrigation is an area of 70 million hectares and the achievement till 2018 is only 9 million hectares. PMKSY is a Centrally sponsored scheme and states’ meaningful participation is essential. Budget 2020-21 allocated Rs 4,000 crore, which is almost double the RE 2019-2020 amount and is substantial.
Unfortunately, increasing water use efficiency in the domestic and industrial sectors was not touched upon in the Budget, although the SDG 6.4 mandates increasing efficiency in all sectors. To ensure sustainable water withdrawals, an allocation of Rs 200 crore under Atal Bhujal Yojana for incentivising and effective groundwater management is a welcome step. In addition, PMKSY (Har khet ko pani) and integrated watershed management have been allocated higher funds during 2020-21 for addressing source sustainability measures.
Given the allocation of funds for water and sanitation sectors was Rs 30,478 crore for 2020-21 (higher than the 2019-20 figure by about 20%), India’s commitment to implementing the SDG 6 goal is evident. Since water and sanitation are state subjects, the states’ full participation in the implementation of schemes is essential. Given the past achievements in sanitation sectors, there is much hope for overcoming the enormous challenges in the water sector.
S.K. Sarkar is a distinguished fellow and senior director, Natural Resources and Climate, TERI, New Delhi and a former secretary, Ministry of Water Resources.