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%.Figure 1

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.  Figure 2

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.Table 1

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.Table 2

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.Figure 3

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.Table 3

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.

Recently, the Supreme Court collegium reiterated its recommendations for the appointment of 11 judges to certain High Courts.  It had first recommended these names earlier this year and in August last year, but these appointments were not made.  The Indian judiciary faces high vacancies across all levels (the Supreme Court, High Courts, and subordinate courts).  Vacancy of judges in courts is one of the reasons for delays and a rising number of pending cases, as there are not enough judges to hear and decide cases.  As of today, more than four crore cases are pending across all courts in India.   In this blog post, we discuss vacancies across courts over the years, delays in appointment of judges, and methods to determine the adequate judge strength required to handle the caseload courts face.

High vacancy of judges across courts

Vacancies in courts keep on arising periodically due to retirement, resignation, demise, or elevation of judges.  Over the years, the sanctioned strength of judges in both High Courts and subordinate courts has been increased gradually.  However, vacancies persist due to insufficient appointments (see Figures 1 and 2).  Between 2010 and 2020, vacancies increased from 18% to 21% across all levels of courts (from 6% to 12% in the Supreme Court, from 33% to 38% in High Courts, and from 18% to 20% in subordinate courts). 

Figure 1: Vacancy of judges in High Courts

Figure 2: Vacancy of judges in subordinate courts



Sources: Court News 2010-2018; Vacancy Statement, and Rajya Sabha replies, Part I, Budget Session (2021), Department of Justice; PRS.

As on November 1, 2021, the Supreme Court had a vacancy of one judge (out of a sanctioned strength of 34).  Vacancy in High Courts stood at 37% (406 posts vacant out of a sanctioned strength of 1,098).  Since May, 2021, the Supreme Court collegium has recommended more than 130 names for appointment as High Court judges.  In three High Courts (Telangana, Patna, and Calcutta), at least half of the posts are vacant (see Figure 3).  The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020) noted that every year, 35-40% of posts of High Court judges remain unfilled. 

Figure 3: Vacancy of judges across High Courts (in %) (as on November 1, 2021)


Source: Vacancy Statement, Department of Justice; PRS.










Appointments of High Court judges are guided by a memorandum of procedure.  As per this memorandum, the appointment process is to be initiated by the concerned High Court at least six months before a vacancy occurs.  However, the Standing Committee (2021) noted that this timeline is rarely adhered to by High Courts.  Further, in the final stage of the process, after receiving recommendations from the Supreme Court collegium, the executive appoints judges to the High Court.  No timeline is prescribed for this stage of the appointment process.  In 2018 and 2019, the average time taken to appoint High Court judges after receiving the collegium’s recommendations was five to seven months.

As of today, over 3.6 crore cases are pending before subordinate courts in India.  As on February 20, 2020, 21% posts for judges were vacant (5,146 posts out of the sanctioned strength of 24,018) in subordinate courts.  Subordinate courts in Bihar, Haryana, and Jharkhand (among the states with high population) had a high proportion of vacancies of judges (see Figure 4).  Note that the Supreme Court is monitoring the procedure for appointment of judges to subordinate courts.

For an analysis of the data on pendency and vacancies in the Indian judiciary, see here.

Figure 4: Vacancy of judges across subordinate courts (in %) (as on February 20, 2020)


Source: Report No. 101, Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020); PRS.


How many judges do we need?

The Law Commission of India (1987) had noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.  Lack of adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.  Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.  Over the years, different methods of calculating the required judge strength for subordinate courts (where the backlog of cases in the Indian judiciary is concentrated) have been recommended (see Table 1). 

Table 1: Methods recommended for calculating the required number of judges for subordinate courts

Method of calculation

Recommendation and its status

Judge-to-population ratio: optimum number of judges per million population

The Law Commission of India (1987) had recommended increasing this ratio to 50 judges per million people.  This was reiterated by the Supreme Court (2001) and the Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002).  For 2020, the judge-to-population ratio was 21 judges per million population.     Note that this figure is calculated based on the sanctioned strength of judges in the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate courts.

Rate of disposal: number of additional judges required (to clear the existing backlog of cases and ensure that new backlog is not created) based on the average number of cases disposed per judge

The Law Commission of India (2014) proposed this method.  It rejected the judge-to-population ratio method, observing that filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units depending on socio-economic conditions.

Weighted case load method: calculating judge strength based on the disposal by judges, taking into account the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions

The National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016) critiqued the rate of disposal method.     It proposed, as an interim measure, the weighted case load method, which addresses the existing backlog of cases as well as the new flow of cases every year in subordinate courts.     In 2017, the Supreme Court accepted this model.

Time-based weighted case load method: calculating the required judge strength taking into account the actual time spent by judges in different types of cases at varying stages based on an empirical study

Used widely in the United States, this was the long-term method recommended by the NCMS (2016) to assess the required judge strength for subordinate courts.  It involves determining the total number of ‘judicial hours’ required for disposing of the case load of each court.  The Delhi High Court used this approach in a pilot project (January 2017- December 2018) to calculate the ideal judge strength for disposing of pending cases in certain courts in Delhi.

Sources: Reports No. 120 (1987) and 245 (2014), Law Commission of India; Report No. 85, Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002); Note for Calculating Required Judge Strength for Subordinate Courts, National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016); Imtiyaz Ahmad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, Supreme Court (2017); PRS.