Many a slip

Can India meet the 2012 deadline to provide safe drinking water to all rural homes?

In many Indian villages, women and children spend a large part of the day fetching water over long distances. This is despite the Centre’s policy to provide drinking water to all rural habitations. The government set deadlines for providing 100 per cent drinking water cover to the country’s 1.6 million rural households thrice—1997, 2007 and 2009—but missed them. Worse, habitations “fully covered” by drinking water supply networks slipped to “partially covered” or “uncovered” status.

Rowty village in Madhya Pradesh’s Ratlam district is a case in point. The village did not experience water shortages till the 1970s; three wells, a step well and a seasonal stream took care of their needs. From the late 1980s, the village kept slipping to “uncovered” status every few years despite measures taken by the state’s public health engineering department (PHED). In 1978, the PHED installed public taps connected to the step well; in 1984-85 a check-dam was built on the seasonal stream and an overhead tank constructed to supply water to each household through taps; later, the department built dykes and check-dams to recharge groundwater.

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