The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) issued an advisory to state governments asking them to ensure safe drinking water supply and management during the nationwide lockdown that has been extended to May 3. “Frequent washing of hands with frothing soaps is recognized as the most efficient and effective measure in the listed preventive measures for controlling the spread of the virus. Thus, there is an urgent need to ensure that safe potable water is available to all citizens particularly in the rural areas where facility of medical sanitizers may not be available.
What does the advisory say?
- The Ministry has asked public health engineering departments, boards and corporations of state governments to give top priority for taking measures to increase supply in areas where it may be deficient, while taking special care of vulnerable sections of the society such as those in relief camps, places of quarantine, hospitals, old age homes, slums, etc.
- State governments have been advised to assess the requirements of purifying chemicals, including chlorine tablets, bleaching powder, sodium hypochlorite solution, and alum. These products, classified under the list of essential commodities, should be used as necessary.
- States have also been asked to send field test kits to villages to conduct periodic testing of water resources, and ensure round the clock vigils to ensure supply.
- To ensure that social distancing is followed, the guidelines recommend states to increase water supply hours in case demand during this period goes up and people come to fetch water from the public stand post. States have also been asked to bolster grievance redressal mechanisms.
India’s water woes
- Although hand hygiene is considered an effective means for warding off novel coronavirus infections, the lack of access to clean water itself is an ongoing challenge that the country has been facing for several years.
- In 2017, in a written reply in Lok Sabha, the Ministry of Water Resources (as it was before being merged into the Jal Shakti ministry in 2019) said that average annual per capita water availability fell from 1820 cubic meters assessed in 2001 to to 1545 cubic meters in 2011, and could reduce further to 1341 and 1140 in the years 2025 and 2050 respectively.
- “Annual per-capita water availability of less than 1700 cubic meters is considered as water stressed condition, whereas annual per- capita water availability below 1000 cubic meters is considered as a water scarcity condition. Due to high temporal and spatial variation of precipitation, the water availability of many region of the country is much below the national average and can be considered as water stressed/water scarce,” the Ministry had said.
- In a 2018 report, the water and sanitation advocacy group WaterAid ranked India at the top of 10 countries with lowest access to clean water close to home, with 16.3 crore people not having such access.
- Notably, the same report also took note of government efforts, saying, “(India) is also one of the world’s most-improved nations for reaching the most people with clean water, but faces challenges with falling groundwater levels, drought, demand from agriculture and industry, pollution and poor water resource management – challenges that will intensify as climate change contributes to more extreme weather shocks.”
Water in the Constitution
The Ministry of Jal Shakti says on its website, “As most of the rivers in the country are inter-State, the regulation and development of waters of these rivers, is a source of inter-State differences and disputes. In the Constitution, water is a matter included in Entry 17 of List-II i.e. State List. This entry is subject to the provision of Entry 56 of List-I i.e. Union List.”
Under Article 246, the Indian Constitution allocates responsibilities of the States and the Centre into three lists– Union List, State List, and Concurrent List.
Water is under Entry 17 of the State List, which reads: “Water, that is to say, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power subject to the provisions of entry 56 of List I.”