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The dept Kamat refused most sought out by MPs

Gurudas Kamat chose to quit the ministry than accept his new job as MoS Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi |
July 14, 2011 1:00:38 am

Congress leader Gurudas Kamat chose to quit the Union Council of Ministers than accept his new job as Minister of State (independent charge) Drinking Water and Sanitation. And like the peeved Minister,the new Ministry too headed for the door,reverting to Rural Development a day later.

Yet every session of Parliament,MPs of all parties look for the minister in-charge of drinking water with one request — a say in the department’s programme in the constituencies.

Because it is this department that oversees implementation of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme. Almost Rs 9,000 crore has been allocated this fiscal to ensure rural habitations get access to safe and adequate drinking water.

The programme provides funds for installing hand-pumps in areas with inadequate access to safe drinking water. Therefore,all MPs want the minister to sanction more hand-pumps for their constituencies. In fact,rural drinking water supply is an important component of the UPA’s flagship Bharat Nirman programme to upgrade basic rural infrastructure.

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But this department can only ensure that financial assistance is provided to states to achieve the larger objective. It does not have the mandate for actual implementation on the ground. It can only monitor,at regular intervals,achievement of the objectives of the scheme. This is probably why the Minister who looks after this department tells MPs that he is not in a position to let them identify intended beneficiaries.

As part of Bharat Nirman,the government identified over 55,000 habitations across India without adequate sources of drinking water. The programme has been in place since 2005 but the challenge is to ensure “safe” sources of drinking water to over one lakh rural habitations. Since the majority rely on ground water as source,the quality of water is affected — salinity,harmful levels of arsenic,fluoride,iron among others.

The other challenge for the department is to ensure sustainability of drinking water sources — many hand-pumps become defunct once the water level goes down. In fact,the government has found that a large number of villages have slipped back. To enhance water-use efficiency and rejuvenate water sources and aquifers,the ministries of Water Resources,Rural Development and Agriculture need to coordinate efforts.

The department also looks after sanitation — the government allocated Rs 1,600 crore this fiscal to curb the practice of open defecation. Under Total Sanitation Campaign,grants are given to BPL households in rural areas for construction of latrines in their homes. The Nirmal Gram Puraskar awards villages and districts which eradicate open defecation.

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