“Water is the driver of nature” - Leonardo da Vinci
In India, the access to drinking water in rural areas increased from about 65 % of the population to about 90% in 2001. Approximately one billion dollar is being spent each year by the Government of India to provide drinking water to rural areas. Looking at the pace of achievement according to quantitative figures and with the government’s ongoing emphasis on flagship programs such as Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission (RGNDWM), it might appear that the problem of access to safe drinking water in India shall soon be solved.
But all that glitters is not gold.
Though there has been an increase in the coverage over the past years which is definitely a positive point, but what is alarming is that there has been continuous slippage from earlier fully covered habitations to partially or not covered habitations. Also, a significant portion of water supply infrastructure created functions much below its design level. The problems of breakdown, insufficient water supply are very common in rural areas.
The inefficiency of these schemes forces people to incur huge coping costs. The people in rural areas, especially women, have to travel considerable distances and stand in long queues. They incur cost on repair and maintenance of public water sources. Maintenance of household equipments for private water supply arrangements, purification and storage of water also bears cost on rural households. All this involves opportunity costs in terms of lesser economic productivity and lesser development in these areas.
Such a vulnerable situation makes one to wonder the reality that exists beyond the mathematical figures of percentage of achievement. What still remain questionable are the impact of these schemes in terms of quality of services provided and the impact on the lives of the beneficiaries.
A careful review of the water supply schemes would reveal that there have been critical issues in the design and implementation of these schemes.
Most of the water supply schemes in India are based around the supply driven concept. According to this, the government plans, designs and installs a project without much participation from local communities. Theoretically this scheme has the advantage of sectoral planning which could help in optimal allocation of resources. But at the ground level, the effectiveness of supply driven schemes is low to moderate.
However, from some time, demand driven approach has gained momentum where Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and local communities play a major role. They are not only consulted during planning and designing of the water supply schemes for their areas but also are continuously involved through cost sharing mechanism and management of the infrastructure. This approach entrusts accountability among PRIs and local communities which is the main reason that explains the fact demand driven schemes have shown better results as compared to supply driven schemes in many cases.
There are financial and operational limitations in supply driven schemes. The institutional costs are also higher in supply driven programs. Supply driven schemes also spend a significant part of funds towards Operational and Maintenance (O&M) expenses. This leaves limited fund availability for building water supply infrastructure in public utility managed schemes. In community managed programs, the communities are expected to share around 10% of capital cost and complete O&M cost. When end users bear an increasing portion of O&M costs, effective utilization of government funds takes place. Also for piped water supply schemes, it has been seen that cost recovery mechanisms which are the basis for financial sustainability perform well in case of demand driven schemes (71%) as compared to supply driven schemes (46%). Even if we look from the perspective of reliability and adequacy, demand driven...