No legal standards to define clean water
In the recently published Human Development Report
of United Nations Development Programme says, "people are forced to drink contaminated
Drinking water quality is critical to human life.
"Even after 55 years of Independence, India does not have legal standards that would help to clearly define
clean and potable water. Municipalities can supply water that is neither potable nor drinkable,
but there's precious little a citizen can do. Under the law, no institution can be ultimately held responsible for quality, because nobody has defined standards that can be legally
enforced," says Sunita Narain, director, CSE. The Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation
(CPHEEO) under the Union ministry of urban development and poverty alleviation sets guidelines for drinking water quality. But these are merely guidelines." Also, the
guidelines include two sets of criteria, allowing much room for laxity. In effect, municipalities are free to choose and supply as they will or want or can," says
Chandrabhushan, coordinator, Green Rating Project, CSE
Rs 1,105 billion was spent on providing safe drinking
Rs 1,105 billion was spent on providing safe drinking water. But even today,
most Indian villages suffer from one of two problems — no access to water or
access to water that is contaminated with harmful pathogens (caused due to open
defecation and poor and non-existent sewerage systems) and chemical contaminants (fluoride, arsenic and iron). In urban areas, we hear horror stories of
worm-infested brackish water coming out of the taps.
People don’t want promises of free water — they want safe water and are quite
willing to pay nominal amounts for it. The state governments pitch in with the
installation costs of the water-treatment plant — in keeping with Article 47 of
the Constitution, which confers on the State the duty of providing clean
drinking water and improving public health standards in the country. Our
organisation sources the technology and brings professional management to the
village facility. The small fee contributed by water users meets the other costs.
In fact, municipalities say as much. For instance, section 42 of the Rajasthan Water Supply and Sewerage
Corporation Act absolves the department of not supplying water in case of accidents, obstruction in supply during summer or a labour
strike. Section 234 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, 1980 says the municipality should take steps to provide, "as far as possible", a supply of wholesome water. Tripura
Municipality Act says it will "try to supply". "Clearly," says
Narain, "Everyone is busy absolving themselves of any responsibility, if it at all exists."
In 1996, a parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation suggested that water treated and supplied by local authorities should be included under
food as "the agency responsible for supplying drinking water to the public has to ensure purity and the statute should bind it to do so". But in its
deposition before the committee, the ministry of urban development (which is responsible for drinking water quality
in cities) averred that the inclusion of water under food would impose, on the agencies that supply water, a legal commitment to adhere to recognised standards. The
agencies, it surmised, could not possibly meet such standards as they lacked the necessary financial resources.
Contaminated Drinking Water
This following information was given by the Minister of State for Water Resources, Shri Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav in response to a question by Shri Prabhat Jha in the Rajya Sabha on
October 21, 2008.
Government is not aware of any specific report stating that “out of 123 countries of the World where a large number of people are forced to drink contaminated water,
India has been ranked at 121st positions whereas our neighbouring countries i.e. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are ranked at 80th and 49th positions respectively”. However, several reports
have indicated the ranking of various countries on different issues from time to time.
In the recently published Human Development Report 2007/2008 of United Nations Development Programme, out of a total of 177 countries, India has been shown at Sl. No. 128, where as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are shown at
Sl. No. 99 and 140 respectively in respect of “water, sanitation and nutritional status”. In an earlier United Nations World Water Development
Report – “Water for People Water for Life” published in 2003, a table titled “ water quality indicator values in selected countries”
was included in which India was shown at Sl. No. 120. However, none of these reports have specific mention that “people are forced to drink contaminated water”.
Ministry of Rural Development (Department of Drinking Water Supply) has taken a number of steps to enable the rural people to have access to safe drinking water in adequate quantity throughout the year on long-term basis. Rural drinking water supply is the State subject. After 73rd Amendment in the Constitution of India, rural drinking water as a subject has been put in the 11th Schedule to be transferred to Panchayati Raj Institutions. Government of India supplements the efforts of the State Governments for providing safe`
drinking water in adequate quantity to the rural people of the country through the centrally sponsored Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme.