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Watershed Restoration and Groundwater Recharge

Even while emphasizing the need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of our irrigation systems, the 12111 Plan is fully cognizant of the fact that the demands of national food security necessitates a major breakthrough in the productivity of our rainfed areas. A primary requirement for this is a massive programme for watershed restoration and groundwater recharge. The 12th Plan proposes to move in this direction by transforming MGNREGA into our largest watershed programme, giving renewed energy to the reformed Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) launched in the 11th Plan and launching a completely revamped programme on Repair, Renovation and Restoration (RRR) of Water Bodies.

A New Approach to Rural Drinking Water and Sanitation

The fact that the same aquifer is being tapped for both irrigation and drinking water, without any co-ordinated management of the resource, has greatly aggravated availability of drinking water. Indeed, we are close to entering a "vicious infinite regress" (Wittgenstein, 1953, sec. 239) scenario, where an attempt to solve a problem re-introduces the same problem in the proposed solution. If one continues along the same lines, the initial problem will recur infinitely and will never be solved. This regress appears as a natural corollary of "hydroschizophrenia" (Llamas and Martinez-Santos, 2005; Jarvis et al, 2005), which entails taking a schizophrenic view of an indivisible resource like water, failing to recognize the unity and integrity of the hydrological cycle. Thus, tubewells drilled for irrigation are more and more drying up the aquifers being used for drinking water.

Lack of convergence with sanitation, on the other hand, compromises water quality, even as it makes provision of improved sanitation difficult. Water quality has also been affected chemically due to geogenic leaching (arsenic and fluoride).

This understanding of the flaws in the drinking water programme has prompted the adoption of a new approach based on the principle of subsidiarity that seeks solutions to these problems as close to the ground as possible. Decisions on location, implementation, sustainability, O&M and management of water supply schemes will be devolved to local drinking water and sanitation committees with an umbrella role for Gram Panchayats (GPs) for effective implementation. A Management Devolution Index (MDI) will track and incentivise more substantive devolution of functions, funds and functionaries to the GPs. The problem of vicious infinite regress can only be tackled through the sustainable and participatory aquifer management approach described earlier, so that the left hand of drinking water knows what the right hand of irrigation is doing.

Convergence between drinking water supply and sanitation will be strengthened by taking up villages covered with piped water supply to get Open Defecation Free (ODF) status on priority and vice versa. Waste water treatment and recycling will be an integral part of every water supply plan or project. Management of liquid and solid waste will be promoted together with recycling and reuse of grey water for agriculture and groundwater recharge and pollution control. This will be done on priority in Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) villages.

The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was launched in 1999 as a demand-driven, community-led programme. But the progress remains far from satisfactory. Open defecation by around 600 million people is our biggest national shame. Latest Census data reveals that the percentage of households having access to television and telephones in rural India in 2011 exceeds the percentage of households having access to toilet facilities and tap water. The APL-BPL distinction and the very low incentive under the TSC have played havoc with the programme.

Thus, the 12th Plan proposes a major shift in strategy. The APL-BPL distinction and the focus on individual toilets are to be replaced by a habitation saturation approach. The idea is not to sacrifice quality and sustainability of outcomes in the mad rush to attain targets, even if this means moving somewhat slower in reaching universal coverage. Through a convergence with MGNPREGA, the unit cost support for individual household latrines has been raised to Rs. 10,000. Toilet designs will be fine-tuned in accordance with local social and ecological considerations. In order to focus more centrally on sustainability of outcomes, the programme will be taken up in a phased manner wherein GPs shall be identified, based on defined criteria of conjoint approach to sanitation and water supply, for achievement of NGP status. This would progressively lead to Nirmal Blocks, Nirmal Districts and eventually Nirmal States.

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