In Budget Session 2018, Rajya Sabha has planned to examine the working of four ministries. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is one of the ministries listed for discussion. In this post, we look at the key schemes being implemented by the Ministry and their status.
What are the key functions of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation?
As per the Constitution, supply of water and sanitation are state subjects which means that states regulate and provide these services. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is primarily responsible for policy planning, funding, and coordination of programs for: (i) safe drinking water; and (ii) sanitation, in rural areas. From 1999 till 2011, the Ministry operated as a Department under the Ministry of Rural Development. In 2011, the Department was made an independent Ministry. Presently, the Ministry oversees the implementation of two key schemes of the government: (i) Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), and (ii) National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).
How have the finances and spending priorities of the Ministry changed over time?
In the Union Budget 2018-19, the Ministry has been allocated Rs 22,357 crore. This is a decrease of Rs 1,654 crore (7%) over the revised expenditure of 2017-18. In 2015-16, the Ministry over-shot its budget by 178%. Consequently, the allocation in 2016-17 was more than doubled (124%) to Rs 14,009 crore.
In recent years, the priorities of the Ministry have seen a shift (see Figure 1). The focus has been on providing sanitation facilities in rural areas, mobilising behavioural change to increase usage of toilets, and consequently eliminating open defecation. However, this has translated into a decrease in the share of allocation towards drinking water (from 87% in 2009-10 to 31% in 2018-19). In the same period, the share of allocation to rural sanitation has increased from 13% to 69%.
What has been the progress under Swacch Bharat Mission- Gramin?
The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched on October 2, 2014 with an aim to achieve universal sanitation coverage, improve cleanliness, and eliminate open defecation in the country by October 2, 2019.
Expenditure on SBM-G: In 2018-19, Rs 15,343 crore has been allocated towards SBM-G. The central government allocation to SBM-G for the five year period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 has been estimated to be Rs 1,00,447 crore. Of this, up to 2018-19, Rs 52,166 crore (52%) has been allocated to the scheme. This implies that 48% of the funds are still left to be released before October 2019.
Construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHLs): For construction of IHHLs, funds are shared between the centre and states in the 60:40 ratio. Construction of IHHLs account for the largest share of total expenditure under the scheme (97%-98%). Although the number of toilets constructed each year has increased, the pace of annual growth of constructing these toilets has come down. In 2015-16, the number of toilets constructed was 156% higher than the previous year. This could be due to the fact that 2015-16 was the first full year of implementation of the scheme. The growth in construction of new toilets reduced to 74% in 2016-17, and further to 4% in 2017-18.
As of February 2018, 78.8% of households in India had a toilet. This implies that 15 crore toilets have been constructed so far. However, four crore more toilets need to be construced in the next 20 months for the scheme to achieve its target by 2019.
Open Defecation Free (ODF) villages: Under SBM-G, a village is ODF when: (i) there are no visible faeces in the village, and (ii) every household as well as public/community institution uses safe technology options for faecal disposal. After a village declares itself ODF, states are required to carry out verification of the ODF status of such a village. This includes access to a toilet facility and its usage, and safe disposal of faecal matter through septic tanks. So far, out of all villages in the country, 72% have been verified as ODF. This implies that 28% villages are left to be verified as ODF for the scheme to achieve its target by 2019.
Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities: As per the SBM-G guidelines, 8% of funds earmarked for SBM-G in a year should be utilised for IEC activities. These activities primarily aim to mobilise behavioural change towards the use of toilets among people. However, allocation towards this component has remained in the 1%-4% range. In 2017-18, Rs 229 crore is expected to be spent, amounting to 2% of total expenditure.
What is the implementation status of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme?
The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) aims at assisting states in providing adequate and safe drinking water to the rural population in the country. In 2018-19, the scheme has been allocated Rs 7,000 crore, accounting for 31% of the Ministry’s finances.
Coverage under the scheme: As of August 2017, 96% of rural habitations have access to safe drinking water. In 2011, the Ministry came out with a strategic plan for the period 2011-22. The plan identified certain standards for coverage of habitations with water supply, including targets for per day supply of drinking water. As of February 2018, 74% habitations are fully covered (receiving 55 litres per capita per day), and 22% habitations are partially covered (receiving less than 55 litres per capita per day). The Ministry aims to cover 90% rural households with piped water supply and 80% rural households with tap connections by 2022. The Estimates Committee of Parliament (2015) observed that piped water supply was available to only 47% of rural habitations, out of which only 15% had household tap connections.
Contamination of drinking water: It has been noted that NRDWP is over-dependant on ground water. However, ground water is contaminated in over 20 states. For instance, high arsenic contamination has been found in 68 districts of 10 states. These states are Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, and Karnataka.
Chemical contamination of ground water has also been reported due to deeper drilling for drinking water sources. It has been recommended that out of the total funds for NRDWP, allocation for water quality monitoring and surveillance should not be less than 5%. Presently, it is 3% of the total funds. It has also been suggested that water quality laboratories for water testing should be set up throughout the country.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.