Poor Water Governance and Scarce Water: A Status Quo in Indian Himalayas

This discourse questions the concept of the reform in water sector as described in the constitution of India and the status of drinking water in its eleven Himalayan Mountain states. It talks about the village level governance, their capacity and institutional arrangement that leads to sustainable water supply models to serve the needs of communities in this region.

The 73rd constitutional amendment of India says that the state or provincial governments should transfer the responsibility of drinking water supply, particularly the operation and maintenance, to the PRIs (Panchayati Raj Institution-Village Government) through an appropriate state level rural water supply policy through an integrated approach to facilitate water sector reform. The efficiency and effectiveness of created assets in drinking water in Indian Himalayan region has become contentious given the poor monitoring system Indian and its state governments have prsently.

Indian government had plans on monitoring mechanism, training agencies, computerizing MIS (Management Information System) from GP (Gram Panchayat-Village Committee) to national level. However, there are evidences of abysmal lack of checks and balances for cross verification of field reports and inter-agency coordination on the status of drinking water supply and sanitation across rural India. Apart from MIS and computerization, the Government of India in its 10th five year plan targeted for interactive website and knowledge bank development by state government with its full financial support, but, none of the mountain states in India have such web portals in place.

Evidence show that the discourse of decentralized governance system in water and sanitation sector and its implementation had many facets of successes and failures in Indian Himalayan region and that mostly depended on the program implementation strategy and the understanding of water and sanitation issues among donor, facilitators and implementers.

Given that mountains are considered as water towers Government’s record shows that of 11 mountainous states in Indian Himalayan region only 57 percent habitations (national coverage is 74 percent) have yet been covered for drinking water supply . The reported figure (table below) itself seems contradictory where in 57 percent habitations covered 75 percent (national coverage is 87 percent) population is getting water.

State % of Habitation Covered (as on April 2011) Population Covered (%) Population Managing Water Supply System (%)
Arunanchal Pradesh








Himachal Pradesh




Jammu & Kashmir
































Average %




Let me quote an example here. In mountain states like Uttarakhand which was among the leading states for sector reform project funded by World Bank (since 1996, still running) we could see that till now only 68 percent habitations were covered and on governance front only 4 percent of the communities are managing their water supply systems. On institutional arrangement in this small state there are three state owned drinking water supply agencies which are working parallel. Since its formation in 2001, this mountain state is facing the crisis of poor governance and financial malpractices in various water supply schemes. The externally supported projects have become greener pasture for retired technocrats in the name of sector reform and a means of fund raising for majority of cash trapped civil groups. One can see that many fully covered villages as per government records have no water supply at all and majority of the communities are dependent on natural springs and rivulets.

When we talk about the existing capacity of PRIs on water and sanitation facilities development and management, there is no denying that, in the world’s largest democracy like India, the Panchayati Raj (village governance) offers tremendous potential to make a positive difference. Therefore, how this potential will be realized, depends a great deal on how well they are empowered by the means of funds, functions and functionaries in terms of project implementation and monitoring process.

Many such projects implemented around world have established that community based participatory approaches those involved robust informative, investigative and analytical monitoring tool, proved its importance in sustaining the project efforts and their wider use. Let the communities be involved systematically in creating and managing their assets, analyze their problems and identify possible solutions to act to marshal the resources necessary to implement and manage.

To plan, develop and manage appropriate and sustainable drinking water supply systems we need a robust monitoring and institutional mechanism and coordination among national and state governments and various such water sector agencies. For example when a village level functionary reports the coverage of water and sanitation facility in a village or habitation, he should be made responsible for such reports and there should cross and spot checks for such reporting systems and this should go on up to responsible officer at block, district and state level. Similarly efficiency of MIS and computerization at district level needs a thorough review in terms of their effectiveness and timeliness.

Also as the governments have policy provisions for computerization from Gram Panchayat (GP or village level government) to National Level, in my opinion each GP should have its own paid data entry operator (DEO) that should be linked with district, state and national level monitoring system. The DEO will not only be helpful in reporting water related status but in all other rural development programs. The people in the villages could report their problems they face in their water supply systems to him and through a participatory O&M mechanism and things could be solved as per the decision and needs by PRI itself. If needed the help from district or state officials could be taken. Such efforts will help in developing and managing a sustainable water supply system in rural areas.

We could know that in 11 Indian Himalayan states only 9 percent of the population is managing their water supply system, which means that we were not able to develop a robust village level governance system that has capacity to develop and manage their water supply by their own.

I wonder what we mean by ‘reform’ since for last 15 years!

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