India overview

Although it has a GDP per capita of US$2,941 (IMF, 2010), some 42% of India’s 1.2 billion people still survive on less than US$1.25 dollar a day (World Bank, 2008). JMP reports show an increase in the population with access to improved sources of rural water supply from 58% in 1990 to 73% in 2008 (WHO/UNICEF, 2010). However, in the last decade the problem of ‘slippage’ has been highlighted, and government statistics put rural coverage at only 67% in 2009.

Administrative set up

The country has a three-tiered federal democracy with central, state and district governments. There are 28 States and 7 Union Territories, and 631 districts.

Main sector institutions

  • Government responsibility for rural water at national level is shared by three major ministries, the Ministry of Water Resources that looks after irrigation and river waters, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, amongst others responsible for water pollution, and the Ministry of Rural Development that oversees watershed development, as well as rural drinking water supply and sanitation through the Department for Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS). The DDWS is the apex agency for rural water nationally, and is responsible for policy formulation, preparing federal budgets, setting norms, and providing the bulk of the funding for rural water supply provision.
  • Under the federal system, it is the individual states that are ultimately responsible for rural water provision. At state level there is a similar division of responsibility as at national level. Departments for Rural Water Supply or Public Health Engineering are implementing rural water supply and sanitation programmes. Some states have different arrangements for rural water supply, with dedicated Water Boards responsible for bulk water supply to rural communities.
  • Responsibility for rural water provision lies at the lowest tier of government, the Gram Panchayats, but the decentralisation process has been varied and, in many areas, remains incomplete. Under the auspices of the Gram Panchayats, community-based organizations (CBOs) called Pani Samitis (Village and Water Supply Committees) are the main institution responsible for community provision; in some cases such CBOs are officially incorporated as sub committees of the Gram Panchayat. In progressive states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Kerala, CBOs out-source construction and O&M of water supply systems to other CBOs, NGOs and private sector companies.
  • Since almost all investments in India are supported by either federal or state funding, assets remain the property of the state, with the right to manage systems delegated to the Gram Panchayats. There is no formal regulator of the rural water sector in India, although one state, Maharashtra, has established a Water Resources Regulatory Authority.

Service Delivery Models

Since 2002, India has had a formally recognized national community-based rural water supply programme, which has been translated into various state level models over the years. In some models state sector technical agencies have responsibility for construction and handing over to community management entities (e.g. the Jalswarajya model from Maharashtra). In others community entities enjoy full financial autonomy for the planning, design and oversight of contractors to build systems and then take over day-to-day management and O&M functions (e.g. the Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (WASMO) model from Gujarat).

Key issues

The issue of slippage, or non-functionality, has become a high priority concern of the DDWS in recent years, culminating in a recent plan by central government to monitor targets for a range of indicators including coverage, source protection, tackling of fluoride and arsenic, and poorly served Scheduled Castes. There is also a growing concern over water security in many states – due to changes in rainfall patterns, contamination from industrial and agricultural sectors, and competition for water use from various sectors, including urban consumers. Water security planning for rural populations focuses on multiple sources to guarantee supply, and has reemphasised the importance of traditional sources, such as rainwater, and of source protection measures. As coverage levels have increased so has the concern with water quality issues. There has, however, been a recent policy thrust towards improving rural water supply as evidenced by the National Rural Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Programme of 2006, the National Drinking Rural Water Supply Programme of 2009, the Results Framework Document of 2010, and two key documents currently under preparation – the Strategy for Rural Drinking Water Supply and the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012 – 2017).