Every number tells a story. Consider this: as per the National Sample Survey (NSS) 65th round, only 47 per cent of urban households have individual water connections. The current distribution system is the cause behind loss of as much as 40 to 50 per cent of the water. Most cities spend between 30-50 percent electricity to pump water on their water supply. According to the World Bank, only 31 per cent of the 167 million rural households in India have access to tap water and domestic toilets (Census 2011).
With increasing distance, the cost of building and then maintaining the water pipeline and its distribution network also goes north. Lack of maintenance of this network adds to the loss of water making it a daunting and impossible task for the government to subsidise the supply of water to all.
The decision of the Aam Aadmi Party to supply 20 kilolitres of water a month free to all metered households in Delhi drew a mixed response, with a few terming it a political gimmick and others claiming that society would benefit. However, looking at the bigger picture within Delhi, this free supply means nothing to about 40 per cent of the people simply because there are no water pipes in their areas and the government is not supplying water at all. These people are dependent on the water tankers, under the control of the water mafia, that charge them exorbitantly.
While the Twelfth Plan focuses on a strategy that is both affordable and sustainable, it is imperative that Indian cities and industries need to find ways to grow with minimal water and minimal waste. As important as the quantum of water is the problem of its management and equitable supply along with the huge challenges posed by the fact that water is divided very unequally within cities. The government has approved seven urban infrastructure projects for Gujarat and Punjab entailing total investment of at least Rs 53,200 crore under its flagship JNNURM programme. Just before announcement of poll dates, the urban development ministry sanctioned Rs 6,929 crore as the first installment to start work on these projects.
Recently, the World Bank has approved a $500 million credit line for the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWSS) Project for Low Income States to improve piped water supply and sanitation services through decentralised delivery systems in 33 districts in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh as these states have the lowest coverage of tap water with Bihar at 2.6 per cent, Jharkhand at 3.7 per cent, Assam with 6.8 per cent and Uttar Pradesh at 20.2 per cent and is expected to directly benefit about 7.8 million rural people in these states.
The project will be financed by credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's concessionary lending arm which provides interest-free loans with 25 years to maturity and a grace period of five years. Another organisation, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is also now focusing on recycle and reuse of waste water as one of the prospective and newly-emerging solutions to address water scarcity in India. JICA has already supported the pilot activities, including reuse of treated water for car-washing under Yamuna Action Plan in Delhi and for horticulture under Hussain Sagar Lake Improvement Project in Hyderabad.