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.
Methodology for estimating unemployment in PLFS reports
The National Statistics Office (NSO) released its latest quarterly PLFS report for the October-December 2020 quarter. The PLFS reports give estimates of labour force indicators including Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), Unemployment Rate, and distribution of workers across industries. The reports are released on a quarterly as well as annual basis. The quarterly reports cover only urban areas whereas the annual report covers both urban and rural areas. The latest annual report is available for the July 2019-June 2020 period.
The quarterly PLFS reports provide estimates based on the Current Weekly Activity Status (CWS). The CWS of a person is the activity status obtained during a reference period of seven days preceding the date of the survey. As per CWS status, a person is considered as unemployed in a week if he did not work even for at least one hour on any day during the reference week but sought or was available for work. In contrast, the headline numbers on employment-unemployment in the annual PLFS reports are reported based on the usual activity status. Usual activity status relates to the activity status of a person during the reference period of the last 365 days preceding the date of the survey.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, a nationwide lockdown was imposed from late March till May 2020. During the lockdown, severe restrictions were placed on the movement of individuals and economic activities were significantly halted barring the activities related to essential goods and services. Unemployment rate in urban areas rose to 20.9% during the April-June quarter of 2020, more than double the unemployment rate in the same quarter the previous year (8.9%). Unemployment rate refers to the percentage of unemployed persons in the labour force. Labour force includes persons who are either employed or unemployed but seeking work. The lockdown restrictions were gradually relaxed during the subsequent months. Unemployment rate also saw a decrease as compared to the levels seen in the April-June quarter of 2020. During the October-December quarter of 2020 (latest data available), unemployment rate had reduced to 10.3%. However, it was notably higher than the unemployment rate in the same quarter last year (7.9%).
Figure 1: Unemployment rate in urban areas across all age groups as per current weekly activity status (Figures in %)
Note: PLFS includes data for transgenders among males.
Sources: Quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey Reports, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation; PRS.
Recovery post-national lockdown uneven in case of females
Pre-COVID-19 trends suggest that the female unemployment rate has generally been higher than the male unemployment rate in the country (7.3% vs 9.8% during the October-December quarter of 2019, respectively). Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this gap seems to have widened. During the October-December quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate for females was 13.1%, as compared to 9.5% for males.
The Standing Committee on Labour (April 2021) also noted that the pandemic led to large-scale unemployment for female workers, in both organised and unorganised sectors. It recommended: (i) increasing government procurement from women-led enterprises, (ii) training women in new technologies, (iii) providing women with access to capital, and (iv) investing in childcare and linked infrastructure.
Labour force participation
Persons dropping in and out of the labour force may also influence the unemployment rate. At a given point of time, there may be persons who are below the legal working age or may drop out of the labour force due to various socio-economic reasons, for instance, to pursue education. At the same time, there may also be discouraged workers who, while willing and able to be employed, have ceased to seek work. Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is the indicator that denotes the percentage of the population which is part of the labour force. The LFPR saw only marginal changes throughout 2019 and 2020. During the April-June quarter (where COVID-19 restrictions were the most stringent), the LFPR was 35.9%, which was lower than same in the corresponding quarter in 2019 (36.2%). Note that female LFPR in India is significantly lower than male LFPR (16.6% and 56.7%, respectively, in the October-December quarter of 2019).
Figure 2: LFPR in urban areas across all groups as per current weekly activity status (Figures in %)
Sources: Quarterly Periodic Labour Force Survey Reports, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation; PRS.
Measures taken by the government for workers
The Standing Committee on Labour in its report released in August 2021 noted that 90% of workers in India are from the informal sector. These workers include: (i) migrant workers, (ii) contract labourers, (iii) construction workers, and (iv) street vendors. The Committee observed that these workers were worst impacted by the pandemic due to seasonality of employment and lack of employer-employee relationship in unorganised sectors. The Committee recommended central and state governments to: (i) encourage entrepreneurial opportunities, (ii) attract investment in traditional manufacturing sectors and developing industrial clusters, (iii) strengthen social security measures, (iv) maintain a database of workers in the informal sector, and (v) promote vocational training. It took note of the various steps taken by the central government to support workers and address the challenges and threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic (applicable to urban areas):
The central and state governments have also taken various other measures, such as increasing spending on infrastructure creation and enabling access to cheaper lending for businesses, to sustain economic activity and boost employment generation.