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India: Union Minister for Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has written a letter to Chief Minister of Assam expressing his concerns over the slow progress of Jal Jeevan Mission in the State. The Mission is a flagship program of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, which aims to improve the lives of rural people by providing safe drinking water to every rural household through household tap connections (FHTCs) by 2024. This life-changing Mission attaches importance on service delivery, rather than infrastructure creation. As it’s envisaged under JJM, the decentralized, demand-driven, community-managed water supply schemes at the village/ habitation level as the approach will bring reforms in the drinking water sector in India.

In his letter, Shri Shekhawat reiterated that the Union Government is committed to providing all assistance to the State Government to achieve this goal. For Jal Jeevan Mission, funds are provided by the Government of India based on the output in terms of tap connections provided and the utilization of available central and matching state share. Against the target of providing tap connections to 12.45 lakh households in the year 2019-20, only 48,852 households were covered. Further, Assam was allocated Rs 694.34 Crore in 2019-20, out of which the State could only spend Rs 392.36 Crore.

Mr. Shekhawat in his letter stressed that providing potable water to every rural household is a national priority and to take the Mission forward, the fund allocation to Assam is increased from Rs.694.34 Crore to Rs.1,407.07 Crore in 2010-21. Thus, combined with an opening balance of Rs.440 Crore, the State will have an assured fund availability of about Rs 1,847.62 Crore as Central share. Further, with a minimum matching State share of 10%, the total fund availability with the State in the current year is likely to be Rs 2,053 Crore.

However, in the last financial year, the State was unable to utilize the funds fully, which highlights the need to review the planning and implementation strategy for water supply schemes in the State so as to expedite physical progress and improve fund utilization. Union Minister has also requested the CM to make timely availability of matching the state share to the executing department for faster execution of the program.

Minister has urged the CM to pay heed to the poor and marginalized section of the society while planning and they need to be prioritized for tap connections. Also, priority is to be given to saturation of villages in aspirational districts, SC/ ST dominated villages/ habitations and villages under Sansad Adarsh Gramin Yojana.

Mr. Shekhawat has advised the strengthening of existing drinking water sources for the long-term sustainability of drinking water supply systems. The planning should be done at the village level and Village Action Plan (VAP) of every village is to be prepared by dovetailing all available resources by the convergence of different programs viz. NREGS, SBM, 15th Finance Commission Grants to PRIS, CAMPA funds, Local Area Development Funds, etc.

He has further stressed that local village community/ Gram Panchayats and or user groups need to be involved in planning, implementation, management, operation & maintenance of water supply systems in villages to ensure long-term sustainability to achieve water security. In all villages, the IEC campaign along with community mobilization needs to be taken up to make Jal Jeevan Mission, truly a people’s movement.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that people don’t crowd public stand-posts/public water sources. Assam CM has been requested to take up water supply works in all villages to provide household tap connections, which will help in practicing social distancing, and will additionally help locals/ migrants in getting employment and boost the rural economy.

Minister of Jal Shakti has assured Assam CM of his full support to make the State a ‘100% FHTCs State’ and he has informed to discuss the planning and implementation of JJM with the CM and Finance Minister of the State through video conferencing soon.

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