The latest CAG report says the country might not meet the SDG goal as well with its current schemes

The increase in drinking water coverage has not been encouraging. Credit: Sayantan Bera

The increase in drinking water coverage has not been encouraging. Credit: Sayantan Bera The increase in drinking water coverage has not been encouraging. Credit: Sayantan Bera

India has again failed to keep its promise of giving access to drinking water to all rural habitations, government schools and anganwadis, says the latest Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) audit of India’s nodal drinking water scheme. The audit covered the performance of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) for 2012-2017 (till December).

The NRDWP was supposed to do this by 2017. Besides, 50 per cent of rural population had to be given potable drinking water by piped water supply at the rate of 55 litres per capita per day (lpcd) and 35 per cent of rural households were to be provided with water connections at homes.

In the five years under audit, the Union and state governments budgeted Rs 89,956 crore or close to Rs 900 billion for about 1.2 million schemes. The CAG audit finds that coverage of rural habitations increased by only 8 per cent at 40 lpcd and 5.5 per cent on the basis of 55 lpcd during 2012-17. Instead of 100 per cent coverage as planned, “44 per cent of rural habitations and 85 per cent of government schools and anganwadis provided access to safe drinking water”. Similarly, instead of the 50 per cent target, only 18 per cent of rural population was provided potable drinking water through pipes and only 17 per cent of rural households were given household connections.

The increase in drinking water coverage has not been encouraging either. “While the percentage of fully covered rural habitations to the total habitations with 40 lpcd increased from 69 (2013) to 77 per cent (2017), the coverage increased from 39 per cent in April 2013 to 44 per cent in April 2017 based on the norms of 55 lpcd,” says the audit report. “Either way, the target of coverage of 100 per cent of rural habitations by 2017 remained unachieved.”

Starting from implementation of the schemes to the institutional mechanism erected to implement those, the audit report finds disturbing failures. “Poor execution of works and weak contract management resulted in works remaining incomplete, abandoned or nonoperational as well as unproductive expenditure on equipment with a financial implication of Rs. 2,212.44 crore.”

Under the programme, every village has to have a water security plan besides similar plans at district and state levels to not only target the programme effectively but also involve local communities for sustainable management of structures created. But 21 states have not prepared such plans showing a fundamental failure in implementation of the scheme.

The National Drinking Water and Sanitation Council (NDWSC), set up in 2010, that is supposed to be the nodal body to coordinate the scheme between the Union ministries and the state governments for speedy implementation. The CAG audit calls it “dormant”. Except for twice before 2012, NDWSC has never met during the five years under audit. “As a result, a co-ordinated and convergent approach with other stakeholders was missing in the planning and implementation of the Programme,” says CAG.

Now, CAG says given this state of implementation, India might not meet the Sustainable Development Goals on drinking water coverage by 2030. “Audit noted that while NRDWP may not be the sole effort required to achieve the SDG, it was nevertheless an important measure towards that end and shortfalls and deficiencies in its implementation including unfruitful expenditure would further impede and make achievement of the goals difficult.”