Water crisis in West Bengal is a serious issue that needs immediate attention. The rapid urbanization and over-exploitation of ground water has made the situation worse. Priority needs to be accorded by the State for potable water supply to rural households in the water-quality affected areas especially Arsenic and Fluoride affected ones and the drought prone areas of the State.
Taking due cognizance of the potable water scenario in various parts of the country, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has launched Jal Jeevan Mission and West Bengal has the potential to gain hugely from it. The mission is a flagship programme of the Government, which aims to improve the lives of people by providing safe drinking water to every rural household through functional household tap connections (FHTCs) by 2024. The mission incorporates the true spirit of cooperative federalism. This life changing Mission focuses on the key principles of ‘equity and inclusiveness’, i.e. every family in the village gets tap water connection in their households. JJM stresses on service delivery, rather than infrastructure creation.
Central government approved the Annual Action Plan for implementation of Jal Jeevan Mission in State of West Bengal. West Bengal State has planned to provide 100% tap connections to all the households in the State by 2024. Out of 1.63 Crore rural households in West Bengal, only 2.19 lakh households have already got tap connections. The State is planning to provide tap connections to 55.60 lakh households in 2020-21.
West Bengal has enough funds in its kitty to implement the program. In 2019-20, Rs. 993.88 Crore of Central funds was released to the State, however only Rs 428.37 Crore was utilized and rest of the amount is lying unspent. Further, to provide potable water in Arsenic/ Fluoride-affected habitations, a sum of Rs. 1,305.70 Crore was provided, out of which Rs. 573.36 Crore is still lying unspent. Thus, as on 1.4.2020, State has an opening balance of Rs. 1,146.58 Crore as Central Share to provide tap water to rural households. During 2020-21, fund allocation has increased to Rs. 1,610.76 Crore. With an opening balance of Rs. 1,146.58 Crore, the State has an assured availability of Rs. 2,760.76 Crore of Central share funds. Therefore, in 2020-21, along with State share about Rs. 5,770 Crore will be available under Jal Jeevan Mission to provide household tap connections in West Bengal. Further, additional funds too can be provided based on progress of implementation in form of performance incentive. There is need for convergence planning to be done by the State under various programmes like MGNREGS, JJM, SBM (G), 15th Finance Commission Grants to PRIs, District Mineral Development Fund, CAMPA, CSR Fund, Local Area Development Fund, etc. at village level and Village Action Plan (VAP) of every village is to be prepared by dovetailing all such funds for carrying out water conservation activities to strengthen water source leading to drinking water security.
As Government of India is working in tandem with States to achieve the goals of JJM within the time frame, focus is on retrofitting/ augmentation of existing water supply systems to provide tap connections to remaining households. Out of total 41,357 villages In West Bengal, 22,155 (54%) villages already have piped water supply systems. Those which have been left out in such villages belong to poor and marginalized sections of the society. There is a potential to provide 1.08 Crore household tap connections in these villages. State needs to push this agenda forward with utmost speed to provide household tap connections in next 4-6 months in a ‘campaign mode’ to capitalise on low-hanging fruits. Priority is to be given to saturation of villages in quality-affected habitations, aspirational districts, SC/ ST majority villages/ habitations and villages covered under SansadAdarsh Gram Yojana.
West Bengal is plagued with severe water contamination especially Arsenic and Fluoride, which poses a serious health risk to the inhabitants. Potable water supply to water quality-affected habitations is given top most priority under JJM, State has to ensure piped water supply to all households in 1,566 Arsenic and Fluoride affected habitations before 31 December, 2020 as an interim measure.
Another health concern is Japanese Encephalitis and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (JE-AES) and the affected 10 priority districts of the State have to be provided potable water on priority. The State has planned to provide 25.46 lakh household tap connection in these priority districts during 2020-21. Centre has advised the State to provide safe drinking water through 100% household connection in these districts by 2022 to reduce morbidity, mortality and disability in children due to JE/ AES.
Under Jal Jeevan Mission, women are empowered and are trained to work as frontline functionaries in carrying out water quality surveillance. At Gram Panchayat level 5 persons preferably women will be trained for water quality testing. The State has also planned to open up water quality testing laboratories for General public.
Safe access to potable water in household premises is absolute necessity and this facility will not only improve the health of rural people in terms of control of water-borne diseases, it will also provide opportunity for economic activities for rural women by saving their precious time, which otherwise is lost in fetching water from a distance. Most importantly, the provision of household tap connection in rural areas will help in removing ‘drudgery’ of women, especially girls as fetching water is their responsibility.
Jal Jeevan Mission is a not just a mere Government program. It’s a people’s movement and to implement it a good information and communication plan is needed to mobilize the community. In all villages, IEC campaign has to be designed well for grassroot penetration. State has to engage women Self Help Groups and voluntary organizations working in social sector to mobilize the rural community for creation of in-village water supply infrastructure as well as for their operation and maintenance.
The State needs to look beyond the mission’s core objective to provide tap connection to each rural household in every habitation/ village on long-term basis. This program is an opportunities for skilled & semi-skilled manpower in areas like masonry, plumbing, fitting, electricity, etc., that will be needed for creation of water supply schemes and their operation & maintenance and such manpower will be required in each village/ habitation. State has to create a pool of skilled Human Resources in rural areas to make villages a self-reliant unit without depending on others for regular upkeep and maintenance of water supply systems. To sum it up, the mission can uplift the rural economy of the State.
The last few decades have seen many regions of West Bengal suffering from drought and water scarcity. State government needs to work together to solve the water crisis. In the scenario of pandemic COVID-19, it’s all the more imperative to have access to clean & sufficient water, that too in the vicinity of our home, for us to practice social distancing. It is indeed distressing to watch women and girls waiting in the endless queues for water, every day. Union Government’s Jal Jeevan Mission well implemented by the state is a door to happiness for many such women.