With the Central Government converging all water related departments under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the demand and supply of water can now be assessed and planned under one executive. Its positive initiatives like Namami Gange Programme and providing tap connection to every rural household will go a long way in meeting India’s water requirements
-Rattan Lal Kataria
Namami Gange Programme is a model for rejuvenation of other rivers
In a pond lived three fish, one named Plan Ahead, another was Think Fast and the third was named Procrastinate. One day they heard a fisherman say that he was going to cast a net in their pond the next day. Plan ahead swam down the river the same night. However, Think Fast and
Procrastinate were caught the next day. Think Fast rolled its belly up and pretended to be dead, prompting the fisherman to throw it back into water. Procrastinate had no plan and was caught. Hence, in challenging times, we must plan ahead or plan to think fast.
The water sector in our country poses a grave challenge to our livelihoods and sustainability goals. The situation is no different than a metaphorical net cast by climate change and rapidly depleting ground water. The time window available for any positive intervention is thin. Realising this, Modi 2.0 started by converging all water related departments under one Ministry of Jal Shakti, to provide an integrated approach to the water sector. As a result, simply put, the surface water did not require any inter ministerial consultation to connect with groundwater. The demand and supply of water could be assessed, estimated and planned under one executive in a single chamber. No matter how commonsensical this move may sound now, but it never rattled anybody’s senses earlier.
Another paradigm shift has been in our approach to make the people the drivers of all envisioned changes. This has been evident from the structural and behavioural changes undertaken in sanitation and river rejuvenation since 2014. Swachh Bharat Mission and Namami Gange Programme are cases in point.
A historic milestone was achieved when the Prime Minister dedicated an Open Defecation Free India to the father of our Nation Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October 2019. Swachh Bharat Mission, the world’s largest sanitation and behavioural change programme, took the sanitation coverage of under 40 per cent in 2014 to universal sanitation coverage in just five years. More than 11 crore toilets were created in rural areas, which, according to a UNICEF study, also resulted in substantial reduction in groundwater contamination, soil contamination, food and drinking water contamination. Thousands of Swachhagrahis continue to devote themselves as ambassadors of change across India. Swachh Bharat Mission is indeed one-of-its-kind sanitation program unmatched anywhere in the world.
India cannot be imagined without river Ganga. Unlike previous efforts, Namami Gange Programme transcended the piecemeal interventions and built a strong foundation with a basin-based approach, now being considered as a model for rejuvenation of other rivers. National Mission for Clean Ganga, the implementing arm of Namami Gange Programme, was elevated to an authority with more financial and administrative powers. District Ganga Committees were formed to engage the local administration and communities more effectively. Both the number of completed projects (147 out of 344) and the pace of expenditure (Rs. 10,100 crore till March 2021- more than double as compared from 1985-86 to 2014) present an optimistic picture. The innovations like Hybrid Annuity model HAM and One City One Operator ensure optimal performance and longevity of the sewerage infrastructure created. It is a matter of satisfaction that all sewerage projects along Ganga in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have been completed arresting the flow of sewage into the river. Eye sores to local people, several drains have also been tapped, most notably the infamous Sisamau Nala in Kanpur and Chandreshwar Nala in Muni-Ki-Reti. The work on CETP project for Kanpur tanneries has also started.The positive impacts of the Namami Gange Programme in terms of water quality have also begun to show as the entire stretch of 2525 km has turned fit for bathing. For River Front Development, work on 144 ghats and 45 crematoria has been completed so far. Never before did biodiversity conservation get so much attention under the Clean Ganga Project.
Filip to Biodiversity Conservation
At least six stretches have been identified as biodiversity hotspots. A self-motivated cadre of about 1300 Ganga Praharis has also been trained for biodiversity conservation. Special emphasis is being given to scientific afforestation, sustainable agriculture, organic farming and watershed development in Ganga basin. To make Ganga Aviral, the minimum e-flow in the river was notified in October 2018 that is unprecedented in history. To make Namami Gange a people’s movement and to reestablish people-river connect (Jan Ganga) as envisioned by the Prime Minister, various innovative awareness activities are undertaken regularly.
To take the transformational efforts in the water sector forward and keep the momentum going, Prime Minister announced the Jal Jeevan Mission (Har Ghar Jal) on 15th August 2019 from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The Mission envisages providing functional tap connection to every rural household by 2024. While only 3.23 crore rural households (out of total 19.19 crore HHs) had tap water connections up till August 2019, it is a matter of great pride for the country that, in a span of less than two years, about 4.22 crore additional rural households have already been provided with new tap water connections. Besides, 6.35 lakh schools and 5.72 lakh Anganwadis have also been provided with tap water supply.
Catch the Rain
Supplying water to every household entails source sustainability. Jal Shakti Abhiyan aims to achieve exactly the same. After the success of JSA-I spanning 256 districts across India, Jal Shakti Abhiyan Phase-II was launched by the Prime Minister on 22nd March 2021 on the occasion of World Water Day with the motto – ‘Catch the Rain, Where it Falls, When it Falls’. To inject the exuberance of youth in the JSA-II, National Water Mission, the implementing agency, collaborated with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) across 623 districts of the country. So far, 2.27 crore people have participated through NYKS. An expenditure of appx Rs 14,000 crores has already been carried on various projects for rain water harvesting, watershed development and pond rejuvenation etc. To say that the water sector in India has undergone some drastic changes in the last few years would not be an exaggeration.
The story I quoted earlier aptly analyses the performance of the Modi Government in the water sector viz-a-vis the previous Governments. The Modi government’s approach is marked by a proactive ‘plan ahead’ and ‘think fast’ approach in stark contrast to a passive approach marred by procrastination, practiced by earlier governments. However, the real success of the programmes can be attributed to the people of India. Surely, people of India (Jan Shakti) will continue to support the government to revolutionise the water sector (Jal Shakti) in India.
(The writer is a former Minister of State for Jal Shakti)