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By WaterAid India

In August 2018, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) came out with a comprehensive performance audit report on the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) for 2012-17. While the civil society and non-profit organizations working in the sector have constantly engaged with the issue to conduct small-scale studies and point out the gaps and challenges, it is heartening to note that a large comprehensive audit report is largely validating what many of us have been talking about for a while.

Let us look at some of the key findings.

NRDWP set out with the following key deliverables:

  • All rural habitations, government schools, and anganwadis to have access to safe drinking water.
  • 50 percent of the rural population to be provided potable drinking water (55 LPCD) by piped water supply.
  • 35 percent of rural households to be provided household connections.

The audit report notes that as against the stated objectives, achievements against deliverables set for 2017 were:

  • Coverage of rural habitations increased by only 8 percent at 40 LPCD and 5.5 percent on the basis of 55 LPCD during 2012-17.
  • Only 44 percent of rural habitations and 85 percent of government schools and anganwadis were provided access to safe drinking water.
  • Only 18 percent of the rural population was provided potable drinking water (55 LPCD) by piped water supply.
  • Only 17 percent of rural households were provided household connections.

Then there are specific areas of findings which are as follows:

Planning and Fund Management
The report noted with concern that the availability of funds for the programme decreased from 2013-14 to 2016-17. Moreover, even the funds allocated could not be fully utilized. While 8,788 crore out of available funds of INR 89,956 crore (10 percent) remained unutilized, INR 359 crore of scheme funds were diverted for ineligible purposes. More importantly, according to the report, Annual Action Plans of States lacked a bottom-up approach.

On program implementation, it was found that poor execution of work and weak contract management resulted in tasks remaining incomplete, abandoned or non-operational as well as unproductive expenditure on equipment with a financial implication of INR 2,212.44 crore.

While noting that overall monitoring and oversight framework of the programme lacked effectiveness and there was inadequate community involvement, the report highlighted that there was no mechanism for ensuring authentication and validation of data entered in Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) in several States leading to data inconsistency. Among the many examples cited are: in district Bhabua (Bihar), out of two schemes covering 17 fluoride affected habitations sanctioned during 2012-17, only one scheme covering two habitations was completed but IMIS data showed 34 habitations as being covered. Similarly, in Gujarat, in 10 selected districts, 10,913 samples (14 percent), out of 77,064 samples tested in water testing laboratories during 2015-17 were found unfit for drinking due to the presence of fluoride, nitrate, alkalinity, hardness, etc. However, these reports were not entered in IMIS.

The report further talks of the elaborate system of monitoring at various levels which exist including at the national level. According to it, there are to be quarterly rounds of visits by the mandated National Level Monitors (NLMs) and approximately 150 districts are to be covered in each round so as to cover all the districts in the country in a year. The report noted that while visits by NLMs were taking place, the Ministry did not have an established system for examining the reports of NLMs and taking follow up action thereby undermining the purpose and utility of the visits.

Similarly, programme guidelines stipulate that District Water and Sanitation Missions (DWSMs) shall constitute a team of experts (with community participation) in the district to review the implementation in different blocks frequently at least once in a quarter. However, the report found that DWSMs in 23 States did not constitute any team of experts.

Programme guidelines also stipulate that State Water and Sanitation Missions (SWSMs) shall conduct a review of the programme in the districts once in six months. However, SWSMs did not conduct any review of the Programme in 17 States.

Programme guidelines also provide for a social audit every six months on a fixed date by community organizations such as Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) and user groups to ensure that the work undertaken is as per the specification and funds utilized are in accordance. However, the audit report observed that the social audit of the programme was not being conducted in 23 States.

Grievance Redressal System
The report also notes that a web-based public grievance redressal portal was launched by the Ministry to enable citizens to lodge their grievances on rural water supply. As on 1 September 2017, out of 855 grievances received by the Ministry related to availability and quality of water, 402 grievances were closed after taking action. However, it was found that no such grievance redressal mechanism had been set up in 15 States.

So what are the additional concerns emerging in terms of systemic challenges? They include operation &maintenance plans that were either not prepared in most of the States or had deficiencies leading to schemes becoming non-functional. As a result, the incidence of slip-back habitations continued to persist. Further, lack of a requisite number of states/district/sub-divisional level laboratories resulted in shortfalls in prescribed quality tests of water sources and supply. Most critically, institutional mechanisms for inspection, vigilance, and monitoring were either not established or were not functioning in the manner envisaged and the overall monitoring and oversight framework lacked effectiveness.

The audit also noted that the studies done so far were either issue specific or state specific and no comprehensive evaluation of the programme had been undertaken by the Ministry covering all the States to assess the impact of NRDWP, a concern in itself.

Some of the critical recommendations from the report are:

  • In view of the fact that the institutional framework for planning and delivery as contemplated in the programme guidelines were either non-existent or non-functional in a large number of States, Ministry should review the feasibility and practicality of these mechanisms to ensure that they serve the intended purposes.
  • Water security plans and annual action plans must be prepared with community participation to ensure that schemes are aligned with community requirements and ensure optimum and sustainable utilization of water resources.
  • Ministry must strengthen capacity building/ information, education and communication (IEC) at the block and village levels so that people are equipped and empowered to meaningfully participate in the planning, management, and monitoring of scheme and programme.

Now that the Government’s own arm is pointing serious gaps, will the government move to take action is the big question!

Avinash Kumar is Director – Programme, and Policy at WaterAid India.

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