The provision of safe drinking is a prime necessity and it is the Ministry of Rural Development which has the prime responsibility of providing safe drinking water in rural areas. To fulfil this responsibility, the Ministry of Rural Development has initiated many programmes for provision of safe drinking water which includes the National Rural Drinking Water Programmeme (NRDWP). To trace its history, a programme named National Drinking Water Mission (NDWM) was introduced in 1986, and was later named as Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission(RGNDWM) in 1991. Rural Water Supply Guidelines were formed for this programme which focused mainly on major issues like the problem of sustainability, water availability and supply and poor water quality. To give effect to these issues on a fresh note, the Rural Water Supply Guidelines were revised on 1 April 2009, and the revised guidelines are known as The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).
The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) is based on the following principles :
- Water is a public good and thus every person has the right to ask for drinking water.
- It is a primary duty of the Government to ensure that the basic need of safe drinking water is fulfilled.
- Enhancing access to safe drinking water to improve public health is the highest priority of the Government.
The objectives of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) include:
- Ensuring permanent drinking water security in rural India.
- Ensuring drinking water security through measures to improve the existing drinking water sources.
- Delivery of services by the system for its entire design period of quality of water in conformity with the prescribed standards at both the supply and consumption points.
- Issues of reliability, sustainability, and convenience and consumers preference to be the guiding principles while planning for a community based water supply system.
- Enabling communities to monitor and maintain surveillance on their drinking water sources.
- Ensuring that all schools have access to safe drinking water.
- Providing an enabling environment for Panchayati Raj Institutions and local communities to manage their own drinking water sources and systems.
- Providing access to information through online reporting mechanisms with information placed in public domain to bring in transparency, accountability and informed decision making.
There are many constraints and challenges before the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP):
- Despite expanding the coverage of provision of safe drinking water facilities in the rural areas, there is a considerable gap between the designed service level for which the infrastructure has been created and the service available at the household level.
- The issue of sustainability of source and system for ensuring supply of potable water are cited as the two major constraints in achieving the national goal of providing drinking to all.
- The programme has been mainly managed by the Government without active participation of the stake holders. This has posed a hindrance to the development of more efficient and lower cost options for service delivery and also denied an opportunity to users to exercise their options as consumers to demand better service delivery.
- The most serious challenge that the programme would face in the coming years is to find ways of meeting the expanding needs of a growing population, increasing demand for higher service levels accompanied by rapid depletion of fresh water availability due to climate change.
- In terms of resource constraints and competing demand on resources, it is very unlikely that the Government would be able to meet the challenges alone. The cost sharing arrangements should encourage involvement of Central Government, State Government and other stake holders.
Naturally, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) has been critised on different counts at different times.
- The main criticism came from Tamil Nadu when Chief Minister Jayalalitha accused the Central Government of differential treatment to different states with respect to release of funds.
- The State Governments have been accused of misusing funds which have resulted in less availability of safe drinking water.
- The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) has been criticised for not reaching rural areas in accordance with the targets.
- The number of villages that have to be covered have not increased substantially whereas it is a major focus of the programme to increase the number of villages for provision of safe drinking water for the people.