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.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.