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Safe drinking water in rural areas still a mirage

Only 117 of 1,945 target habitations covered in fiscal 2017-18, success rate 6.1 per cent

GUWAHATI, May 13: Safe rural drinking water in Assam continues to remain a far cry from the situation elsewhere in the country with the State Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department not been able to meet the target of NRDWP for successive years. The coverage under the project in fiscal 2017-18 is just 6.1 per cent.

NRDWP – National Rural Drinking Water Programme – is a programme of the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. The implementing agency of the programme in Assam is its PHED that has been going ahead leaving behind a trail of failure for years. When the performances of the State PHED for the past four financial years, as statistics given by sources in the State PHE Department, are analysed, it becomes crystal clear that the department, despite getting funds released from the Union ministry, has been a chronic underperformer in supplying safe drinking water for reasons best known to it.

The target of rural habitation set to be covered with drinking water supply during fiscal 2017-18 under NRDWP was 1,945, but the State PHED could cover only 117 rural habitations, the percentage of success being just 6.1. The department failed to meet the target set, not by a long shot. The performances of the State PHED in the preceding financial years are no different. The target in fiscal 2016-17 was 1,752 rural habitations, but the department could cover only 382 of them, the percentage of success being 21.80. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, the department could cover only 499 rural habitations under the NRDWP against the target of 3,697 habitations.

In 2015-16, the target of covering rural habitations under the programme was 3,993, but the State PHED could cover only 1,659 of them, percentage of success being 41.60. The target of the programme for fiscal 2014-15 in the State was 9,938 rural habitations, but the department covered 6,399 habitations, the percentage of success being 64.38.
Supplying safe water in rural areas is purely a State subject. The Union ministry under its NRDWP supplements the efforts of State governments by giving them technical and financial assistance for improving coverage of safe drinking water in rural areas. The State governments are empowered to plan, design, sanction and execute rural drinking water schemes. Project proposals taken up in a State are approved by the State-level scheme sanction committee. This makes it crystal clear that the success of NRDWP depends much on the State PHEDs.

The total target in the past four consecutive financial years under the project was 17,626 rural habitations, but only 8,557 habitations could be covered, the percentage of achievement of the State PHED being 48.56.

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Ankur Kalita