Monitoring Challenges: In Water and Sanitation Sector

We are facing a number of monitoring challenges in drinking water supply and rural sanitation in India. This generally is hampering the overall pace of water sanitation infrastructure development to achieve the targets in access to safe water and availability of sustainable sanitation. In this article I will discuss the developmental processes and monitoring systems with regard to rural water supply and sanitation in India.

The efficiency and effectiveness of created assets in water supply systems has become contentious given the monitoring systems we have in India. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment of India states that the state/provincial governments should transfer the responsibility of drinking water supply, particularly operation & maintenance to PRIs (Panchayati Raj Institution-local governments) through a state level rural water supply policy in the context to reform principles through an integrated approach, as prescribed by the Government of India. It suggests the provisions of an independent agency for such project monitoring and financial management for source sustainability with village level committees.

Our national government also has plans for ensuring monitoring mechanisms, training agencies, computerized MIS (Management Information System) from GP (Gram Panchayat-Village Government) to national level but, there are abysmal evidences of checks and balances for cross-verification of field reports and inter-agency coordination.

Apart from MIS and computerization, the Government of India has planned interactive websites and knowledge bank development by state governments with its full financial support, but, there is hardly any state that has such websites in place by now.

To be frank, it sometime appears that in the water and sanitation sector in India, we either don’t have competent professionals or they are not able to implement and monitor the projects/programmes effectively.

Evidences have shown that the discourse of decentralized governance system in the water and sanitation sector and its implementation had many facets of successes and failures in India, and that they mostly depend on the programme implementation strategy and the understanding of water and sanitation issues among donor, facilitators and implementers.

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

Many such projects implemented around the world have established that community-based participatory approaches, those that involved robust informative, investigative and analytical monitoring tool, have proved its importance in sustaining 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, and to marshal the resources necessary to implement and manage.

For the development of a robust monitoring system we need a robust institutional mechanism and coordination among national and state governments and 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 be cross checks and spot checks for such reporting systems and this should go on up to the level of the responsible officer at the block, district and state levels. Similarly, the efficiency of MIS and computerization at district level need a thorough review in terms of their effectiveness and timeliness.

I appreciate the efforts of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in improving its website and content in general. But, the status of MIS system is such that for over years we could neither develop a robust MIS system nor is it even reflected in the present IMIS system of Government of India.  I say this by quoting an example on water supply coverage in some states, and there are discrepancies in reporting the coverage within different parts of its website. For example, on the water supply status of Himalayan states like Uttarakhand and Mizoram you will get different coverage figures in IMISReport/NRWPdistrictmain and IMIS reports/reports/profile.

We need to also consider that unlike earlier systems of Monitoring and Evaluation that was done by a separate wing of the Rural Development Department for Water and Sanitation facilities in India, it is now carried out by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation itself.  This will help in improving various important technical, administrative, coordination and reporting issues in reporting district to state level data.

As discussed, when we have policy provisions for computerization from Gram Panchayat to the national level, in my opinion, each Gram Panchayat should have its own paid data entry operator (DEO) who should be linked with district, state and national level monitoring system. The DEO will not only be helpful in reporting water and sanitation status but in all other rural development programmes.

The people in the villages could report their problems they face in their water supply systems to him/her, and through a participatory operation & maintenance mechanism, things could be solved as per the decision and needs of the PRI itself. If needed, the help from district or state officials could be taken.

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