Experts call for a holistic approach on water and sanitation management

OVER 7.5 crores toilets have been built in last 3.5 years, while 3.7 lakh villages, 385 districts, and 17 states have been declared open defecation free (ODF), informed Parameshwaran Iyer, secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Making a lead presentation at the two-day thematic seminar on Water and Sanitation, he discussed how Swachh Bharat Mission has made significant changes in the sanitation sector with pioneering bold initiatives by various states to tackle the menace of open defecation. The seminar was hosted by Ministry of Finance in collaboration with Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) as knowledge partner in a partnership with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA). Given Pune’s importance of successful intervention in sanitation, this city was selected for hosting the two-day deliberations. The thematic Conference on Water and Sanitation is one of the lead-up events to the AIIB’s 3rd Annual Meeting to be held in June 2018 in Mumbai.

While India is making significant strides in Water and Sanitation sector, what is needed is a holistic approach and public participation in the sustainability of outcomes, opined various experts. The panel discussions included various experts deliberating on topics including efficient water management, drinking water, sanitation infrastructure and waste management, financing and regulatory issues amongst others. Parameshwaran Iyer, secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder Sulabh International, Seshadri Chari, member Governing Council, RIS, Dr Kumar V Pratap, joint secretary (IPF) Ministry of Finance, Government of India, Professor Amitabh Kundu , distinguished fellow , RIS and ex-Dean JNU , Mukund Vasudevan, co-chair FICCI Water Mission, Jyoti Vij, deputy secretary general FICCI were present on the occasion.

Parameshwaran Iyer said that the biggest game changer was the Prime Minister putting Swachh Bharat on the top of the development agenda. The mission is unique with a focus on not just building infrastructure but also on behavioral change and a shift in focus from output to the outcome. There is also focus on verification and sustainability of programme with an expert group looking at independent verification. He said that this is a peoples’ movement. The economic and health impact of the sanitation programme is significant. The government will move towards outcome-based financing and shall focus on functionality approach. In highlighting innovative successes in sanitation sector in India, he referred to the wide use of Twin-pit Toilet which is the most well-suited toilet technology for large parts of rural India, recommended by Government of India and World Health Organisation.

With respect to water management, Parameshwaran Iyer said that Government of India recently launched ‘Swajal’ – a community-led drinking water project aimed at providing sustainable and adequate drinking water in an integrated manner in rural areas. This project aims at empowerment of village communities and is based on the principle that services should be delivered by lowest appropriate level. The technical assistance for this will be provided by the Government.

Dr Kumar V Pratap, joint secretary (IPF), Ministry of Finance, Government of India said that water is unique amongst all the infrastructure sectors with 85 per cent water utilities worldwide being publicly owned and operated. It is a difficult sector for private players to get in- worldwide & minimum private investment has come in water and sewage sector. In India, cost recovery is less than 20 percent in urban areas which is a challenge. However, there have been successful PPP projects in developing countries like Manila and Philippines. It is important to price water rightly to achieve financial and social objectives. Poor do not benefit from low user charges. The subsidies must be on connections and not usage.

Dr Amitabh Kundu in the inaugural remarks said that India has 2.4 per cent of the global habitable land, and 4 percent of water resources, but has a huge challenge of feeding 17 percent of the population. There are things to be addressed with regards to cropping pattern, infrastructure, and investment.

Dr Seshadri Chari, member Governing Council, RIS in his address said that the problem of water and sanitation is becoming acute as the development process goes forward. There is no replacement of water, we need to become more serious about the nature of the problem. We need more institutions like FICCI to partner with the Government on this issue which touches everybody’s lives. Conservation of water is an age-old value in India, alluding to this, Mr. Chari stressed on ‘Jal he Jeevan’ or the importance of water for all.

Mukund Vasudevan, co-chair FICCI in his welcome address said that while there are a lot of commendable initiatives undertaken in the area of water and sanitation by institutes and individuals, the scale of multi-pronged problems should be highlighted. There exist supply, demand and infrastructure issues for which government interventions are required as nobody can match the scale at which the Government can execute programs. With increasing awareness, enabling infrastructure, getting funding, addressing problems using viable technologies and Government support this is a solvable problem. FICCI has constituted the water mission to catalyse a dialogue and work with Government on policy changes.

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