Traditionally water supply in India was limited to the major cities within the spread of the process of urbanization. Declining health standards in the rural areas urged the post-Independence government to take serious initiatives to improve the rural drinking water and sanitation. Now, one of the most important aims of the government is to ensure safe water supply to the rural areas. This initiative was first taken up by Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP) in 1972-73. Between the years 1972 to 1986, the aim of ARWSP was to ensure safe water supplies to rural areas. ARWSP was renamed Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission in 1991-92 with further stress on rural water supply coupled with community planning and management of drinking water. Five factors were kept in focus:
1. Sustainability of water supply
5. Affordability and equity
Based on these considerations the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) evolved in 2010. According to the NRDWP report, 2010 more than 5.6 million hand pumps and over 1.2 lakh piped water schemes have been installed in the country under the “Rural Drinking Water Supply Programme”. But the majority of the schemes have become non-functional and many other permanently defunct due to non-availability of funds. According to recent statistics, 44 million are affected by degraded water quality with the excess of fluoride, arsenic, iron, nitrate, heavy metals and salinity. Only 18.7% of villages have safe water supply while 51.1% depends on wells, tanks and other sources. 32% of the villages do not have any water supply. The objective of every nation is to provide safe drinking water for all. Panchayat involvement, community participation, private public partnership, intersectoral coordination is very important to achieve the mission of distributing safe drinking water to the rural areas of India.
The Indian society and culture value personal hygiene but gives little importance to clean and healthy community environment. According to a recent UNICEF report, 638 million (54%) people still defecate in the open and only about 50% of Indians regularly wash their hands with soap after contact with excreta. It is therefore evident that rural sanitation is a Herculean task. The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), launched in 2003-2004, is a flagship programme of the government and seeks active participation of all sections of the society. TSC has special components to encourage women and adolescent girls to actively participate in their sanitation program. The Nirmal Gram Puraskar incentive scheme has been envisaged to encourage panchayat raj institutions to attain a 100% defecation free environment. Sikkim was the first state to receive this award. The aim is to convert all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats into nirmal gram panchayat within the next decade. But only constructing toilets will not solve the problem. A behavioral change is necessary to ensure continued cleanliness and maintenance of these toilets.
Poor sanitation and lack of toilets cost India nearly three lakh crore rupees because of hygiene related illness resulting in poor productivity. The problem is not only economic but of human dignity also. The practice of manual scavenging still exists very much in our country which is the worst violation of an individual’s right to life with dignity. However the officials are taking no step to put this disgusting practice to an end. A UN report in 2010 revealed that more Indians have an access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. This is India.