12 Feb :Carrying forward the initiative of holding consultations on major national issues with the subject matter experts, Shri L.K. Advani today held discussions with leading environmentalists, public health engineers, doctors and senior technocrats who had worked with public sector water utilities and representative of community based organizations on various issues concerning the supply of clean drinking water of a prescribed minimum quantity, free of charge, to all the citizens of the country.
Setting the agenda for the interaction, Shri Advani stated that unsafe drinking water is one of the main causes of ill health and high rate of mortality in the country. Diarrhea alone is the commonest cause of death among children under five year of age.
A number of programmes have been taken up in the last six decades and large amount of funds have also been spent to provide safe drinking water to the people, but its availability remains elusive for many, particularly for those from the weaker sections of the society. About 10 percent of urban and rural population still remains outside the reach of drinking water supply of any kind. Even among those linked to supply many particularly in rural areas, have to fetch it from long distances. The water supplied has serious quality problems like arsenic, fluoride, nitrate, iron and salinity. The twin problem of sanitation has received scant attention, coverage in rural areas being as low as 28 per cent. A paradigm shift in thinking and approach is, therefore, necessary if the vital needs of drinking water and sanitation are to be effectively made available to the common man.
It was generally mentioned by those present in the meeting that adequate attention had not been paid in achieving the basic objective of making clean drinking water available to all the citizens. Investments made for the purpose have not been adequate, management of water resources has been poor and water utilities have generally been inefficient. As a result, even cities with sufficient water have been facing supply problems.
The experts were of the view that India had enough utilizable water resources to meet the demand in foreseeable future. What is, however, required is to enhance the storage capacity expeditiously to ensure water security for the country in the long run. There was also an imperative need to take up GIS based mapping to sustainable sources of water in rural and urban areas to enable efficient utilization of water resources in planned manner.
Health care and technology experts pointed out that there were serious problems regarding the quality of water. Quality standards have not been mandated for drinking water so far. But keeping the enormous public health implications of supply of unclean water, it is imperative to lay down minimum mandatory standards for compliances by governments, local bodies, utilities and other service providers.
Some experts made a strong plea that a basic minimum quantity of clean drinking water should be made available to all, free of charge, as basic human right, they even pointed out that some countries had included it as a fundamental right of the citizen. It was generally agreed that 20 litre per capita per day (lpcd) of drinking water confirming to specific standards should be ensured, besides the water needed for other uses.
Regarding the feasibility of making clean drinking water available to all within a given time frame, the experts were of the view that with appropriate political commitment it should be possible to do so. The most feasible option to ramp- up the operations across the country will be decentralized water management in which local communities build and operate drinking water plants. This will mean a very low cost of transportation. It will also promote ownership of the facility by the community and a consequent sense of responsibility and participation at the local level.
Matching programmes of sanitation and sewage treatment and disposal will need to be launched.
Wherever it is techno- economically not feasible to install a drinking water plant locally, water should be supplied from the nearest plant by pressing in to service tankers in sufficient numbers.
Other suggestions made include – removal of inequities in the supply of the water to the rich and poor; holistic policy and approach in handling the water supply issues; cleaning up of river systems should be bi-partisan national mission; rain water harvesting and recycling of water; imperative need to give priority to R& D effort in the sector.
After listening to the suggestions made by the experts present in the meeting, Shri Advani gave an assurance that supply of adequate clean dinking water as also provision of sanitation and sewage disposal will be an important programme of BJP government.