Channelling into a new stream

As economic slowdown starts to look more and more real than ever before and signs of investments fade, the Union Budget is being increasingly seen as a fountain of hope. The customary pre-Budget meetings between the government and the industry have taken place, but with a difference. Instead of the finance minister meeting business heads, the prime minister has done so. Of course, these interactions were not labelled as pre-Budget meetings, but the timing cannot be missed. While the picture of who’s who of India Inc standing along side the PM is sending out a message in the current times of distress, the next government step, possibly in the Budget, will determine India’s investment roadmap and job creation potential. The PM has given a call to the industry for unleashing the animal spirits, but there aren’t any takers yet.

In that backdrop, there’s buzz in some unlikely quarters of the government, working to be a part of the investment and job creation kitty. For instance, the water-related ministries have hardly drawn much attention in the past. But now, the recently coined Jal Jeevan Mission, with the goal of giving functional tap connection to all rural households by 2024, is warming things up. Quite like Ayushman Bharat, another flagship project, had added a zing to the Union Health Ministry during Narendra Modi government’s first stint, Jal Jeevan’s “tap for all” initiative is attracting international audience and more to the umbrella water ministry during NDA 2.0.          

While it’s been the job of some of the key economic ministries to brainstorm on boosting investment and creating employment, officials managing the latest water mission are setting similar goals. The idea is that Jal Jeevan Mission and Jal Shakti Abhiyan — an intensive water conservation campaign — must converge to make the best of the government focus on water. Tucked in the interiors of New Delhi’s CGO complex, the headquarter of the water mission is a scene of activity till late evening on a typical working day. Bharat Lal, the mission director of Jal Jeevan, does a quick calculation to make a point. Every village will get an investment of around Rs 50 lakh from the Jal Jeevan Mission, which has a total project cost of Rs 3.6 trillion with the Centre’s share at a little over Rs 2 trillion. Close to 700,000 villages across 700 districts are expected to be covered by the scheme. The managers believe the project will create jobs at several levels, from engineering to masonry, planning and designing to factory work. This could all help boost government’s rural infrastructure spending when it’s needed the most, they believe. The numbers show that out of 178.7 million rural households in India, about 146 million are yet to get household water tap connections.  

Since it’s a Centre-state collaboration, the question that comes to mind is whether Jal Jeevan will face a similar resistance from non-BJP states that Ayushman Bharat has witnessed. Surprisingly, the people in charge say the response from the states, including those ruled by opposition parties, has been more than positive. Who doesn’t want to give water connection to all households as it’s the state responsibility to provide water, asks Lal, who’s in the midst of striking many partnerships and collaborations to make Jal Jeevan a success.    

Another comparison that one can’t miss is with Swachh Bharat, that has occupied the centrestage for the past five years. While both are about changing behavior, the consensus seems to be that supplying drinking water to all is a more complex subject.  While the PM seems to be keeping a close track of the progress like he has been doing for Swachh Bharat and Ayushman Bharat, the lessons learnt from the popular schemes are coming handy. That includes how to track and transfer funds and go for targeted delivery. 

Among other things, Aadhar of the people getting access to tap connections will be used to monitor delivery of the project. It, however, doesn’t mean that one can’t get a tap if he doesn’t have an Aadhar card. It’s a universal coverage plan, officials quickly explain. Rural water may not immediately have any connect with high-end technology, but there’s plenty being contemplated — from geo-tagging for real time monitoring to sensor-based measurement system along with hydro geo maps. The Department of Space too will have a role in it. 

To make the latest flagship scheme click, the involvement of the local people (mainly gram panchayat) will be key. Partnerships with states and other stakeholders like NGOs, international organisations and industry too will determine if 2024 — the year that India goes for the next general election — is a feasible target or not to connect all rural households with water taps. On the way, there’s hope for new jobs and investments.        

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