The Annual Financial Statement, also known as the Union Budget (2021-22) was announced by the Union Finance Minister on February 01, 2021. Keeping the pandemic in mind, this time it was important to focus upon the critical sector of water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). This year’s budget has kept wastewater conservation and piped water supply to all the households as its priority.
Ms Sitharaman announced the Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 with a budget of Rs 1,41,678 crore starting from 2021 extending upto the next 5 years. Fecal sludge management, wastewater treatment, source segregation, management of waste from urban construction, bio-remediation of legacy dumpsites are some of the projects that are going to be in focus in the Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0.
Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) was announced in the Union Budget 2021-22 which sought to bring safe water to 2.86 crore households through tap connection. The Center’s rural water supply project which was launched in 2019 is in line with this Mission.
A budget of Rs 50,011 crore was announced by the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, which is about 4.5 times the revised budget for 2020-2021. The mission is to connect every household with tap water. The year 2024 has been set as the target year for piped rural drinking water supply and the scheme has promised full coverage of all households. JJM not only provides piped water supply to all households, but also emphasizes on augmenting local water local water sources and recharging existing ones. Water harvesting and desalination is also promoted by them. The government’s ambitious plans may not be implemented sufficiently by the slight increase in the allocation.
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Last year, the National Rural Drinking Water Mission (NRDWM) was reorganized and reincorporated into Jal Jeevan Mission (hereinafter referred as JJM). The programme objectives to offer purposeful household tap connections to every rural household for drinking, cooking and other domestic needs by 2024 with a service level of 55 litres per capita per day. A budget of Rs 3.6 crore was approved by the cabinet for this scheme, but the question lies as to whether the budget has been able to allocate enough to turn this into a real fact.
A marginal increase of 17 per cent was witnessed from the allocation of Rs 25,878 crore that was observed in 2019-2020 by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation under the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti, in the last Union Budget.
There was an increase of mere 15 per cent in the budget allocation for 2020-21 amounting to Rs 11,500 crore that was allocated to the flagship rural drinking water programme. At a time when the overall economy also seems to be shrinking, it is perhaps too much to expect that allocations for ‘water’ would be drastically more in the overall backdrop of declining social sector investments.
There has been a marginal increase of 6 percent over last year’s allocations of the overall allocations for water spread across four ministries and a 8 percent increase than that of last year for the Ministry of Jal Shakti. It would be good to see where and how the money gets spent more than the quantum itself.
Keeping this in mind, it is important to take note of the fact that the Sustainable Development Goal – 6 aims to ensure countries achieve universal access to safe drinking water as well as sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030. Only 1% of the global GDP would be the cost incurred for securing water for communities across the world by 2030. In January, 2020, the World Resources Institute estimated that “In the United States, France, China, and India, water scarcity is the primary driver of costs, from a cost perspective, limiting sustainable water management.”
The importance of clean water, sanitation and clean environment as a prerequisite to achieving universal health has been repeatedly stressed upon by the World Health Organisation.
In India, 7% of the population, or 9.1 crore people, are without basic water supply, as per a 2019 joint report by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Despite a 14 percentage point jump in basic access to water supply over 17 years to 2017, nearly 60 crore Indians face “high to extreme water stress”.
When the Centre announced the annual Budget, it was most expected to emphasise the need to ensure basic access to water and sanitation. The water budget is crucial this year as it is a key challenge for India for the access to clean to clean water, hand washing and sanitation for controlling the spread of Covid-19. More than 1,53,000 lives have been lost in this pandemic.
The water ministry got Rs 1.37 lakh crore ($18.8 billion) allocated between 2016-17 and 2020-21 (this also includes the years before the formation of the consolidated water ministry). While the department of water resources got 29% (for groundwater management, irrigation, flood control and multi-purpose projects), more than 71% was allocated to the department of drinking water and sanitation (for the supply of clean drinking water). In five years to 2020-21, the allocation to the water ministry was 1.1% of the Union Budget. While the highest allocation during this period, as a share of the Union Budget, was in 2017-18 and 2018-19 (1.3%), spending was highest in 2017-18.
The government allocated Rs 11,500 crore to the department of drinking water and sanitation for the Rs 3.6-lakh-crore ($49 billion) JJM to provide a functional tap water connection in every rural household by 2024 and supply at least 55 litres per capita per day in the 2020-21 budget.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has laid special emphasis on drinking water and sanitation as presented by her in the present Union budget. She also mentioned that the Government will identify 100 districts, which are “water stressed”. This will be a part of the JJM, for which Rs 3.06 lakh crore, the FM announced.
The JJM [Urban], that will be launched aims at universal water supply in all 4,378 Urban Local Bodies with 2.86 crore household tap connections, as well as liquid waste management in 500 AMRUT cities, as stated by the Finance Minister.
On the contrary, the finance minister has stated about the unveiling of Swachh Bharat 2.0, that it will stress on further strengthening of the ‘swachhata’ (cleanliness) campaign of urban India and allocated the budget of Rs. 1.41 lakh crore, which will be implemented over five years from 2021.
Last year, Rs. 9,994 crores were allocated for Swachh Bharat Mission Rural and Rs. 2,300 crores for Swachh Bharat Mission Urban, with a total allocation of Rs. 12,294 crores for the campaign.
The government’s commitment towards water cleanliness and its continuous supply is showed by the allocation of Rs. 3.67 lakh crore in the current budget, which is definitely going to benefit 4,378 urban local bodies. Liquid waste management would also be carried out across 500 AMRUT cities.
Swachh Bharat mission for 2020-21 has a total allocation of Rs 21,300 crore.
Surface water schemes for irrigation and river conservation are also critical, keeping the importance of the access to water for drinking and domestic needs in mind. Rs 39,153.9 crore was allocated to the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (prime minister’s irrigation scheme) between 2016-17, amounting upto 42% of the department of water resources. The scheme received its highest allocation in 2020-’21, at Rs 5,127 crore, and 57% of the allocation for the department.
According to my opinion, government should have spent more in Budget 2021 to provide tap water to all its rural homes. Even though the provision of clean water and sanitation has improved over the years, more investment is needed to protect water resources.
Compared to the other South Asian countries, India’s water budget is huge. Based on a lot of studies, it is estimated that this must must exceed 3% of the estimated gross domestic product in 2030 to provide for sustainable water management.India is right now at a stage where water also needs increased allocation and utilisation, but more importantly accountability.
Further, more investment is needed to protect water resources such as by groundwater recharge,which takes more than mere pipes-and-taps infrastructure, even though the provision of clean water and sanitation has improved.
The pandemic helped highlight the place of water and hygiene in public health, it is also important to ensure continued behaviour change towards water and sanitation.
Even though the dependence is overwhelmingly more on groundwater, Surface water has continued to get more focus and investments.
The importance of safe an efficient sanitation has truly been highlighted by COVID – 19 and it gives us immense happiness to see the Budget 2021 taking cognizance of the pertinent linkage between universal water and sanitation and universal health. It is definitely a welcoming move with the budget like this taking in consideration all these areas. The launch of the JJM (wastewater management) will also catalyse the movement towards achieving SDG 6 by 2030.
The foundation for focusing on waste management and swachhata in the urban areas was much needed, that has been laid down in the Budget 2021. Urban sanitation and swachhata needed utmost attention. The the urban challenges both from density and health point of view has been exposed very clearly by COVID, and they are at a greater risk and it has got adequate attention in this budget.
The current budget has recognised a need for capacity building and awareness programmes but a sharp increase in these components can be seen. For example, the revised estimate for 2020-2021 shows an allocation of Rs 20 crore for information education and communication which has increased almost 3.5 times in this year’s budget.
In order to fully utilise the budget allocations, the attention needs to be given at the implementation part and further strengthening our institutional reforms at the state and municipal level.
Dr. Moin Athar, Director, Institute of Legal Studies, Shri Ramswaroop Memorial University, Lucknow.
Sarvesh Kumar Shahi, Assistant Professor, School of Law, KIIT University, Bhubaneshwar.