Jal Jeevan Mission and Atal Jal Yojna: Initiatives for Integrated Water Management

Dr VK Bahuguna

(The author is a former civil servant)

Water is the most important resource for sustaining the life on earth. The happiness and development index of any civilized society depend upon the access of a safe drinking water for its population. Our country lies in tropical region with plenty of rainfall and adequate sunshine. The rainfall though is more in North and Northeast and comparatively less in West and South. Apart from rainfall the Himalayan glaciers compliment the precipitation and provide year long supply of waters in our rivers, rivulets and for recharging our aquifers. The forest catchments play an important role in maintaining the river flow in rain fed rivers, recharging aquifers and sub surface drinking water. India receives around 4,000 billion cubic meters of rains annually during June to September which is equivalent to 4% of world water resources. The renewable water resource in India is 1897 sqare km per annum. The World Health Organisation prescribes 25 litres of water for one person a day to meet all basic hygiene and food needs. If the rain fall and river water is managed thoughtfully there should be sufficient water for both agriculture and drinking as also for industrial and energy use. We have 12 major rivers catering 253 million ha of catchment with another 47 medium rivers catering for other catchments. The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna system is the largest river system in India with 43% of the catchment area of the all major river systems. 

According to the Central Water Commission had India needs a maximum of 3,000 billion cubic metres of water a year while it receives 4,000 billion cubic metres of rain. However, due to deficit in governance planning, natural causes like climate change and negligent/lackadaisical attitude of the people, India is in the grip of severe water scarcity. As per the Niti Aayog composite water management index, 75 per cent of households do not have drinking water on premise and about 84 per cent rural households do not have piped water access. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research the per capita annual water availability has declined to 1,508 cubic meters in 2014 from 5,177 cubic meters in 1951 and is estimated to decline further to 1,465 cubic meters by 2025 and 1,235 cubic meter by 2050. It will become a water stressed nation if it goes down to 1,000-1,100 cubic meters. Already many cities like Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad are badly affected with much other facing severe water famine during summer in Central and Western India.

The biggest reasons for water stress are over exploitation of ground water as more than 89% of it is used for agriculture. It is estimated that around 50 per cent of urban water requirement and 85 per cent of rural domestic water needs are fulfilled by groundwater. India captures only eight per cent of its annual rainfall and the traditional modes of water capturing in ponds have been lost to demands of real estate for increasing population and other land uses. We therefore, need serious introspection and prevent wastage of water and learn from country like Israel which recycles  and manages its water efficiently.

It is in this respect that the Prime Minister Modi as soon as he returned to power in May 2019 integrated the Water Resources Ministry with Drinking water and Ganga Rejuvenation and created Jal Sakti Ministry. The Ministry had already taken several actions and the cleaning of Ganga in Kanpur, Varanasi and Haridwar is worth mentioning. Under the Jal Jeevan Mission the Prime Minister on 25th December 2019 on the occasion of birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had launched the 'Atal Jal Yojna' to help improve ground water level in 8300 villages in 78 districts of Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Utter Pradesh and Karnataka. The farmers of these and elsewhere in the country will have a rethink on water intensive crops and irrigation methods. On the recommendations of National Rainfed Area Authority (which was created on the recommendation of the Planning Commission sub-committee chaired by the then Gujarat Chief Minister in 2007 who is now piloting these innovations as Prime Minister) where the author worked, had recommended to the Cabinet Secretary to transfer the rice growing in eastern states and convergence in many other water conservation, forests and rural development schemes.


To provide safe drinking water to rural areas the Union Cabinet had also approved Jal Jeevan Mission to provide Functional Household Tap Connection to every rural household by 2024. It is going to be one of the best government decisions if implemented successfully as out of 17.87 Crore rural households about 14.6 Crore which accounts for 81.67% are yet to have household water tap connections.The scheme aims at providing assured 55 litre of standard potable water per capita per day. It envisages that each village will prepare a village action plan consisting of components of water source & its maintenance, water supply and, management of water used for washing dishes, laundering clothes, or bathing. The village action plan will be aggregated at district and State.  The total project cost is estimated to be about Rs 3.60 lakh Crore. The government had finalized the operational guidelines of the scheme and had kept provision of a third party inspection before making payment which is an innovation in government functioning as it will involve organizations and institutions outside the government bureaucracy for better efficacy. Yet another innovative thinking in the project is changes in the drinking water supply services and will be based on utility based approach and concept of service delivery. Such a reform is proposed in the guidelines so as to enable the institutions to function as utilities focusing on services and recover water use fees. It is hoped that this initiative will be successful provided people are made stakeholders and proper monitoring is done and experts are involved in the process. It will go a long way in initiating efficient water management in the country and all political forces must have a unitary approach for its success as earth is the only known planet in this universe that has water and for sustaining life we need safe water.

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