After the country-wide sanitation drive with the Swachh Bharat Mission in the first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to shift focus to the allied issue of water as his second term begins.
Enter the Ministry of Jal Shakti. Led by Rajasthan MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the new ministry has set the ball rolling for the government’s ambitious plans to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024.
According to sources, the Jal Shakti ministry merges the ministries of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation along with Drinking Water and Sanitation to bring all aspects of water management and regulation under one department.
The scheme ‘Nal se Jal’ to provide piped drinking water to every household will be a component of the government’s Jal Jivan Mission. This was among the primary promises made in the BJP’s vision document released in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Officials in the know said that drinking water accounts for only 4 per cent of the water used in the country while agriculture accounts for 80 per cent of all water including groundwater. Sources told The Indian Express, “It doesn’t help that there are very few groundwater regulatory bodies since this matter comes under the state. The present approach to water conservation is pushed through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) and driven by the provision of work and not geared at addressing the issue of water management itself.”
“The setting up of a separate ministry will give water conservation measures the much-needed impetus it deserves.”
Officials said that over the last several months, there have been a slew of meetings between Israeli government officials and some of the concerned ministries and the NITI Aayog to explore ways to collaborate on water conservation efforts and technology sharing.
“Unlike India, Israel is largely urban and it has been able to implement metered water connections, something that will take a lot of political will in India,” said an official.
Since water as a subject is spread across several ministries, there was never a comprehensive plan to address the country’s water crisis, officials said, adding that even the maps of water sources are not all available in one place.
According to a 2018 NITI Aayog report, “600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual ~6% loss in the country’s GDP.”
The creation of the Jal Shakti Ministry was indicated in the interim budget of the NDA government and in the many speeches by the Prime Minister during the election campaign where he promised to take up access to safe drinking water once re-elected.
Referring to Jal Shakti, the BJP’s vision document said, “Water is a critical resource but its management is spread across various departments, even at the Central level. We will form a new Ministry of Water unifying the water management functions to approach the issue of water management holistically and ensure better coordination of efforts.”
It also said that such a ministry will look at conservation of surface and groundwater as well as fast-track late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s proposed solution to ease the irrigation and drinking water crisis by inter-linking rivers across the country.