India’s Dream for 24X7 Water Supply

Clean piped drinking water supply for all is a national priority for India in the ongoing second innings of the Government. This can be seen through programs like ‘Nal se Jal’ that focus on provision of 24×7 piped water supply across different parts of the country. This will go hand in glove with the second objective of preserving water resources and recycling waste water to ensure a sustainable growth and development. Recycling of waste water is a necessity to ensure source sustainability as nearly 80 percent of water used ends up becoming waste water.

The growing need for water supply

But why is it necessary to spend hundreds of crores on piped water in India? Presently, multiple issues loom large over the water supply systems in India. Firstly, the average distribution losses in India are 53-58 percent as per 2012 data with no significant improvement over the past few years. Second, the regulations are fairly weak or absent with a stark lack of incentives and accountability. Third, the quality of water in India is very poor with estimates indicating that 75 percent of India’s water is contaminated and not fit for use. Fourth, there is heavy dependence on small-scale private players, which are often unregulated. Fifth, nearly 40 percent of urban India has no access to public water supply. In rural areas, it is almost 90 percent. And then, there are several limitations with the metering and tariff systems.

So, how is piped water supply beneficial to solve these water woes? It helps with reduction of contamination through arresting the mixing of fresh water with sewage. It is a basic human right and necessity to have lifeline water (for carrying out all basic functions throughout the day). Piped water is treated before supply to all dwellings, and treated water translates into improved public health, by reducing the geo-genic (automatically occurring contaminants from the earth) and anthropogenic pollution (caused by human activities). Also, there is a higher willingness to pay among users for clean piped 24×7 water supply, which can help make water supply systems less reliant on government funding. Availability and accessibility of water will also lead to a reduction in theft. Lastly, a reduced need for water storage leads to saving costs spent on storage units by individual users.

Walking the road ahead

The task of providing water supply 24×7 shall be an uphill one for the government and all its arms working in the water supply departments. Some of the modifications required for efficient functioning of the water supply system include the need for capacity building across government and non-government institutions that are part of the water supply regime, strengthening of regulatory framework within the urban local bodies and at national level (who shall be the implementers of the 24×7 water supply program), establishing a set of incentives and disincentives for all stakeholders, including the users for efficient check mechanisms of the system. The empowerment of the beneficiaries will result in having multiple mini-check and balance systems  throughout the country. Finally, we should also look at pricing water to recover operation and maintenance costs of water supply, which shall also lead to water conservation.

About the Contributor:

Pallavi Gulati is a sustainable development professional currently associated with Mu Gamma as a consultant, she has worked with Quality Council of India (autonomous body under Ministry of Commerce and Industry) on Swachh Bharat Mission projects including the flagship Open Defecation Free Assessment of cities (ODF) with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Prior to QCI, she has worked with TERI (The Energy & Resources Institute) in the Environment and Waste management division on various audit and consultancy-based projects. This article was originally published in the Sustainability edition of The Plus magazine. Read here.