Report brings out ineffectiveness of rural water supply schemes

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New Delhi, Jul 3 (UNI) A World Bank Survey Report released here brings out the ineffectiveness of rural water supply schemes in India on which the government spends about a billion dollars each year and the fact that rural households spend considerable part of their limited resources on acquiring clean drinking water.

The average spending on water by a rural household is Rs 81 per month, and the 'Willingness to Pay' survey (which is part of the study) shows that they are quite open to spending up to Rs 60 a month on just 'Operating and Maintaining" a water scheme, provided they are assured a regular and dependable supply.

Contrary to popular belief, rural households already spend a considerable part of their limited incomes on acquiring clean drinking water, often having to tap a range of different schemes running in their villages, in addition to provisions like privately investing in borwells, storage tanks and so on.

Entitled 'Review of Effectiveness of Rural Water Supply Schemes in India,' the study was conducted at the request of the Indian Government by the World Bank. The mandate of the study was to review the service delivery aspects of rural water schemes in various States.

The survey covered 40,000 rural households across ten States and entailed more than 600 drinking water supply schemes.

The ten States account for about 60 per cent of India's rural population. They are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orrissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

In short, it was a large scale empirical analysis of traditional target-driven (supply driven) programmes of the government and the more recent target driven model of decentralised community driven approaches.

The study shows that large public entities in some cases incur excessive institutional costs like salaries and overheads. At times, they incur unnecesssary high capital expenditure, and more significantly perhaps, spend less than half of what they should be spending on maintaining and operating their running (piped water) schemes. As a result, only a fraction of public finances is actually available for improving rural water supply services.

As on April 1, 2007, the official figures of the Department of Drinking Water Supply show about 74 per cent habitations are fully covered and 15 per cent are partially covered. While there have been a steady increase in coverage over the years, many fully covered habitations have been continuously slipping into 'partialy covered' or 'not covered' reliable water supply.

The study shows that the cost recovery process of schemes managed by village communities is distinctly better than the public entity managed schemes. the institutional costs are also low in the decentralsied community driven(demand driven) programmes. Hence, a relatively larer fraction of money spent through demand-driven programmes can be utilised for creating infrastructure for rural water services.

At the same time, the study points out that the mere adoption of the 'decentralised agenda' cannot be itself improve the functionality and sustanability of the schemes. Rather, there was need to develop mechanisms for enhancing 'accountability' in service delivery, including distinct rules and responsbilities of institutions at the State, district, and the Gram Panchayat level.

"The study should help in opening up the debate on institutional, economic and policy reforms in the sector, and not be seen as the last word", says Ms Isabel Guerrero, Country Director, World bank in India.

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