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History and Evolution

Historically, drinking water supply in the rural areas in India has been outside the government's sphere of influence. Community-managed open wells, private wells, ponds and small-scale irrigation reservoirs have often been the main traditional sources of rural drinking water. The Government of India™s effective role in the rural drinking water supply sector started in 1972-73 with the launch of Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP). During the period 1972-1986, the major thrust of the ARWSP was to ensure provision of adequate drinking water supply to the rural community through the Public Health Engineering System. The second generation programme started with the launching of Technology Mission in 1986-87, renamed in 1991-92 as Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission Stress on water quality, appropriate technology intervention, human resource development support and other related activities were introduced in the Rural Water Supply sector. The third generation programme started in 1999-2000 when Sector Reform Projects evolved to involve community in planning, implementation and management of drinking water related schemes, later scaled up as Swajaldhara in 2002. During the 11th five year plan GOI have further consolidated the reforms agenda and have revised the Rural drinking water programme as NRDWP with revised guidelines. Later in 2013 NRDWP focus was given to ensure sustainability of sources and systems and also improvement of quality affected areas.

GOK have adopted a comprehensive water policy in 2008 which envisages the micro watershed as basic unit for management and river basins as basic unit for development planning of water resources. The policy envisages the strengthening of the constitutional role of PRIs in management of rural Water and Sanitation projects

Kerala now has an experience of one and half decade in decentralized planning by Local Governments. The Peoples Plan Campaign launched at the beginning of the Ninth Five Year Plan succeeded in evolving a working methodology for participatory planning by local governments. Decentralization has ensured equitable flow of funds to all the regions of Kerala. Decentralized planning has improved local capacity in understanding challenges related to development and in identifying strategies and programs to meet them. Decentralized planning has done well in provision of basic minimum needs in terms of housing, sanitation, water supply, power connection and physical connectivity. It has considerably improved infrastructure in public institutions. The 73rd and & 74th constitutional amendments effected in 1992 have shared, the responsibility for operation and maintenance of water supply systems to the local self governments along with the para-statal agencies. As a first step in meeting this constitutional requirement the GOK have decided to share the responsibility of drinking water supply to the LSGs (GO. MS. No. 29/1998/IRD dated 19/3/1998) including handing over the responsibility of existing single panchayath schemes which were being maintained by the KWA to the respective GPs. About 1050 single Panchayath water supply schemes of the KWA was ordered to be handed over to the GPs concerned vide GO. MS. No. 125/1998/IRD dated 23/11/1998.

The decentralization and the peoples planning campaign in the state have initiated implementation of many micro and mini drinking water projects by the PRIs during the 9th,10th and 11th five year plans. Quite a good no of micro water supply schemes were implemented during the 9th plan.

Government of Kerala (GOK) has not formulated a drinking water supply policy, but has largely followed the GOIs guidelines and priorities in rural water supply and sanitation. In 2008, GOK adopted a water policy identifying micro-watersheds as the basic units for conserving and managing water. The guiding principles of the policy were:

  • Access to water is a human right.
  • Ownership of water is with the State.
  • Micro-watersheds are the basic units for management and conservation.
  • River basins shall define water rights and regulate water use.
Accordingly, the policy encourages:

  • a resource-based approach for sustainable and equitable water management;
  • user participation in planning, development and management of water resources;
  • rain water harvesting;
  • restructuring of roles and relationships of the State and water users; and
  • strengthening the capacity of panchayati raj institutions for fulfilling their responsibilities in water and sanitation, as envisaged in the Constitution.

The Policy identified sector issues and priorities. Domestic use of water was to get highest priority, followed by agriculture, power generation, agro-based industry, industrial and commercial, and others. In the management of water projects, the Policy favored: priority for completion of pending projects; compulsory water audit for all water projects; water balance estimation at watershed, sub-basin and river-basin levels; state-level master plan for water resource development and management; drinking water supply master plan; responsibility sharing with LSGs in the case of small and medium drinking water schemes; and promotion of rain water harvesting.

The 2008 Policy also recommended the following interventions: data management and information system; training, and research and development; capacity building  master plan; fixing of water charges to ensure O&M cost recovery; continued subsidy for the weak and the poor; citizens charter for drinking water and irrigation water; and involvement of women in management of projects.

The water regime in Kerala has been undergoing a change. Recent developments in water sector are associated to a greater extent with improved management and institutional changes, than with investment in physical structures. As water development, production and supply shift from a supply-driven approach to a demand-responsive approach, water has increasingly come to be treated as an economic good.

Towards operationalizing GOI guidelines of 2010, GOK has constituted a Task Force to undertake an appraisal of the performance of various departments and entities in the field of rural drinking water supply to ensure:

  • integrated planning;
  • coordination in implementation to avoid overlap and duplication;
  • efficiency in expenditure through synergies;
  • generation of data on the location and functioning of different schemes;
  • improved MIS relating to rural drinking water supply; and
  • Improved monitoring policy on pricing, standards of service and evaluation system for RWS.

Regarding existing multi-GP water supply schemes, GOK has expressed interest in piloting and developing a few implementation models”as per Jalanidhi principles”for partial transfer, rehabilitation and modernization, which could then be adopted across the rural water sector in Kerala for all multi-GP water supply schemes to fully align with GOI guidelines. GOK has announced that for each scheme, a tripartite agreement will be signed between the KRWSA, the KWA and the participating GPs, stipulating their respective roles and responsibilities.

The key legislation in Kerala relating to rural water and sanitation are: Kerala Water Supply and Sewerage Act, 1986; and Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994. The 1986 Act outlines the powers of the Kerala Water Authority (KWA). The Third and Fifth Schedules of the 1994 Act specify the role of PRIs in water and sanitation. Other state legislation includes Kerala Ground Water Act, 2002, which relates to conservation of ground water, and the regulation and control of its extraction.

In rural Kerala, drinking water is provided by GOK [through two para-statal agencies”the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) and the Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (KRWSA)] and more than a thousand LSG institutions. The sector also comprises organisations like the Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU), the Ground Water Department, the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who support the service providers.

The KWA was established in 1984, as an autonomous authority for the development and regulation of water supply, and waste water collection and disposal throughout the state. At present, it implements urban and rural water supply projects costing Rs 50 billion (Rs 5,000 crore). Project planning activities in the state are by and large done by the KWA. 
The KRWSA was established in 1999 as a special purpose vehicle to implement Jalanidhi, a World Bank-aided rural water supply and sanitation project. It has successfully developed an alternate model for service delivery based on the principle of cost recovery. It has also acquired expertise in establishing rural water supply and sanitation projects based on demand responsiveness, community ownership and sustainability of investments. Beneficiaries in 227 Grama Panchayats (GPs) maintain 5886 water supply schemes initiated through the KRWSA.

The LSG institutions share responsibility for O&M of water supply systems, following the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, and enabling state legislation. Also, about 30%-40% of Keralas overall plan fund allocations are expended through LSG institutions. Therefore these institutions have been important players in the sector for almost 20 years, with experience in participatory planning, and implementation of micro- and mini- drinking water  projects.