‘The Jal Jeevan Mission is everyone’s business’

It’s an implementation challenge as tough as it comes in a country such as India — providing assured water supply to every rural home by 2024 — but that does not faze Bharat Lal. Rather, the additional secretary and mission director of the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) appears to be relishing the responsibility of executing a project as aspirational as it is audacious.

With a budget of $51 billion (about 3,814 billion), JJM is working at a gallop to realise its goal of ensuring that good-quality water in adequate quantities reaches all of India’s 660,000-plus villages. In this interview with Horizons, Mr Lal talks about the Mission and how it has geared up to execute the gargantuan task at hand.

What’s your view of JJM and the IoT-based water monitoring system in it?

JJM is being implemented in partnership with the states to ensure that every household in our villages get an assured supply of potable tap water on a regular and long-term basis by 2024.

We are working to empower rural communities through the setting up of water and sanitation committees, popularly known as pani samitis, in each village to plan and operate water supply schemes. That means every village will have a public utility managing supply to every household in that village.

There is an investment outlay of 3,600 billion over five years to provide tap water to rural homes, and we are disbursing about 300 billion a year to panchayats [village councils] to manage water supply. It is important, in the context, to measure and monitor this water supply in terms of quantity, quality and regularity. We have to do this in an efficient and cost-effective manner and that’s where the IoT-based system comes in.

A technical committee had been constituted to prepare a roadmap and the states are using the broad framework provided by it for planning, designing and implementation. Advances in electronics, communication, data analytics, etc make it feasible to use IoT technology to share information and take remedial action.

We had launched a technology challenge for manufacturers to develop a water supply monitoring system and we have picked 100 villages in eight states for field demonstrations by four solution providers. Meanwhile, some states — Gujarat, Sikkim, Haryana and Bihar among them — have started planning for such a smart system.

How challenging is the goal JJM has set itself?

It’s quite challenging but there is a determination to accomplish the task. The central government is committed to achieving this goal and we have got tremendous support from everyone. That’s the reason we have made substantial progress.

When the Mission was launched in August 2019, only about 32 million households in rural areas (or 17%) had tap water supply. Today about 76 million rural households (39.4%) are getting tap water supply. That’s an addition of 44 million households in under two years, despite the disruptions caused by Covid -19.

Many states have advanced their plans to provide tap water connections to rural households before 2024. Goa, Telangana, Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have already achieved the distinction of providing tap water to every rural household. This has motivated everyone to achieve the JJM objective as early as possible.

The dynamics of water usage in India are interesting. Only about 7% of available freshwater is used for drinking and domestic needs, less than 10% of available water is used for industry and about 85% of water consumption is accounted for by agriculture. This means that any change in consumption of water in agriculture will have profound impact on water availability for domestic use and industry.

How important are private-public partnerships in bringing such solutions to fruition?

It is vital that every individual and organisation join hands for the cause of water. ‘Building partnerships, working together and changing lives’ — that’s the JJM motto. We are working at different levels with different partners to ensure that the Mission is everyone’s business.

To that end, we have forged collaborations with civil society entities, NGOs, international agencies, various ministries and departments, state governments, academic and technical institutions and, not least, local communities. Most of the execution of the Mission is done by private sector players.

The IT revolution in India was led by the private sector and IoT solutions are being increasingly used in telecom, gas, electricity, etc with the participation of this sector. There is a huge opportunity with water as well. I’m sure the private sector will come up with various models for implementation and bring in the latest technology in sensors, data communication, storage and analytics.

The expectation is that this IoT system will be adopted in rural areas across the country. Do you see that happening?

Today more than 93,000 villages and 62 districts in India have the provision for tap water supply and in the near future a further 60,000 villages will have it. In another 100,000 villages, projects to provide tap water to every home are under implementation. That’s the speed and scale of the work.

The central government is providing technical as well as financial support in deploying the necessary systems. With regard to the IoT solution, there is huge excitement about it among technology developers, entrepreneurs and innovators, on the one hand, and public health, engineering and water-utility officials and the general public, on the other. This solution will usher in a new era.