It’s for every State to recognise health and economic benefits to their own people, says Union Minister
More than 80% of rural households in Bihar have been provided with tap water connections, according to Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Having added more than 1.5 crore connections in just over a year, the highest of any State under the Centre’s Jal Jeevan scheme, Bihar is now set to achieve 100% coverage in 2021, three years before the national deadline.
Goa became the first State to provide tap water connections in all rural homes last month, and Telangana (98%) and Puducherry (87%) are also set to achieve full coverage next year.
At the other end of the spectrum, less than 3% of rural households in West Bengal have been covered under the scheme. Like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the State suffered from legacy issues and an extremely low baseline coverage — all three States had less than 2% coverage when the scheme was launched in August 2019. However, West Bengal has made little progress, adding just 2.3 lakh connections since then, and having completed less than 5% of its 2020-21 target so far.
“Even today, no representative of the West Bengal government was present during the meeting,” Mr. Shekhawat told journalists after holding a mid-year review with States on Tuesday. He dismissed suggestions that political differences were the cause of the State’s poor performance, noting that other States with non-BJP governments had performed well. “At the end of the day, it is for every State to recognise the health and economic benefits to their own people, especially for women and children who otherwise bear the brunt of the labour in fetching water from long distances,” he said, adding that performance-linked incentives mean that States which make better progress will receive more funding.
The JJM officials say WB has been hampered by legacy issues, bureaucratic personnel changes and a complacent attitude. “It is a problem in many parts of eastern India where there is no dearth of water supply. When people have a tube well or hand pump at their doorsteps, they don’t see the urgent need for a tap connection. That complacency then extends to the water department officials also,” said a senior JJM official.
With regard to Bihar, the State government’s existing scheme to provide tap water connections meant that processes had already been put in place even before the Centre’s scheme was inaugurated. In August 2019, it only had 3 lakh tap connections for 1.9 crore rural households. According to the official JJM dashboard, rural Bihar now has 1.09 crore taps, or 56% of the total. “Due to the election, the data has not been updated on the dashboard. From the ground information we have, the current status is 1.6 crore connections,” said the JJM official, explaining the 80% figure.